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Japan’s SLIM lunar lander arrives at moon, status of landing unclear

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported that Japan’s “Moon Sniper” robotic explorer has successfully landed on the lunar surface. However, the status of the spacecraft is still unknown, according to telemetry data shared during JAXA’s live broadcast.

Based on the telemetry data, the human-free Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission descended just after 10:20 AM Japan Standard Time on Friday. JAXA is currently examining the status of the lander and will provide further information during a press conference.

If the landing proves successful, Japan will become the fifth country in this century to safely send a spacecraft to the lunar surface. The SLIM rover, launched in September, is known as the “Moon Sniper” for its new precise landing technique called “pinpoint” landing.

While previous lunar missions targeted larger areas, SLIM will focus on a landing site spanning only 100 meters (328 feet). Equipped with “smart eyes” using image-matching-based navigation technology, the lander autonomously adjusted its descent for a more precise touchdown on the sloping lunar surface.

The Moon Sniper’s journey takes it near a landing site named Nectaris Sagar, close to a small Sholi crater within the Chandrayaan basin. If the lander successfully touches down, it will study the nearby rocks, shedding light on the moon’s origins.

Collisions between celestial bodies like Ulkapind and other moonlets create not only craters but also ejecta blankets of rock debris on the surface. Scientists find these rocks intriguing as they offer insights into the moon’s interior. Navigating around rugged areas filled with rocks is a risky process for most missions, but JAXA believes its lander has the technology to safely approach such terrains.

This recent attempt adds to the global efforts in lunar exploration, with several countries and space agencies attempting lunar landings, experiencing both successes and failures. India joined the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China as the fourth nation to achieve controlled lunar landing with its Chandrayaan-3 mission in August, reaching the lunar south pole.

Japan’s space exploration company, iSpace, faced an unfortunate incident in April when its Hakuto-R lander crashed 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) during a landing attempt on the moon. Despite challenges, space agencies continue to be inspired by the potential of lunar resources, considering it a crucial step for future human exploration beyond Earth’s boundaries.

The motivation behind this new lunar space race extends beyond Earth’s satellite, as researchers aim to explore areas permanently shaded from sunlight, where water may exist in the form of ice. This water resource could be crucial for future human endeavors in space exploration, pushing the boundaries of space research in the coming decades.

a day before

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aims for a historic lunar exploration moment as its Smart Lander, known as SLIM, is scheduled to descend onto the lunar surface at 10:20 AM JST on Friday or 12:20 AM on Saturday. The success of this mission would mark Japan’s maiden venture of landing a robotic explorer on the lunar surface and make it the third country in the 21st century to achieve such a feat. If successful, it would also become the fifth nation to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon, following the Soviet Luna 9 mission in 1966.

The spacecraft, nicknamed “Moon Sniper” for its precision landing technology, is set to begin its descent towards the lunar surface at 10 AM ET. The landing will be livestreamed on YouTube in both Japanese and English.

Kenji Kusakari, the project manager for the SLIM mission, stated in a press release, “We expect the descent onto the lunar surface to be slow for the first 20 minutes, inducing a sense of suspense and anticipation.”

This endeavor by JAXA reflects the global interest and advancements in lunar exploration, with countries aiming to unravel the mysteries of the moon and pave the way for future space exploration in the 21st century.

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