Japan’s Moon Lander Springs Back to Life, Defying the Odds

Japan’s Moon Lander Springs Back to Life, Defying the Odds

Despite taking an unfortunate tumble on the lunar surface, Japan’s lunar lander has regained power more than a week after ending up face down on the Moon.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced it had established communication with its Moon mission and resumed its operations. SLIM’s multiband spectroscopic camera (MBC) was even used to snap a photo of a rock dubbed “toy poodle” on the lunar surface, the space agency wrote on X.

SLIM, short for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, touched down on the Moon on Friday, January 19, making Japan the fifth country to successfully put a spacecraft on the dusty lunar surface. About three hours after landing, however, JAXA was forced to shut down the spacecraft’s system because SLIM’s solar cells were not generating enough electricity.

One of SLIM’s two main thrusters may have failed during the final landing phase, causing the lander to end up in an awkward position with its thrusters pointed upward and its solar arrays facing west, away from the Sun. The lander was supposed to first land with its thrusters facing down toward the lunar surface; then, a small thruster burn was meant to tip SLIM onto its side.

A tiny rover called Sora-Q captured the first image of SLIM. Sora-Q, which was deployed to the Moon’s surface by the spacecraft, revealed the lunar lander’s fate, looking as helpless as a turtle flipped upside down on its shell.

The mission landed at the start of the lunar day, when the Sun rises in the east and provides around two weeks of light. As the day on the Moon progressed, the Sun began moving towards the west, shining some light on the lander. The Sun will set over Shioli crater by early Wednesday, which means that SLIM will get about four days to charge its batteries, according to the German amateur radio satellite organization AMSAT-DL. It’s uncertain how much longer JAXA can extend SLIM’s operation, but given that lunar night is looming, and that the lander isn’t designed to survive the ensuing cold conditions, there’s not much time left, regardless.

SLIM achieved the main objective of the mission, a pinpoint landing on the lunar surface to test cutting-edge precision technology used to touchdown within a 100-meter radius of a target. JAXA is still fighting to have more time with its breakthrough mission, hoping to gather as much data as possible to feed into future missions to the Moon.

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