Japan's moon lander could still be saved with abundant received data. Japan turned off its moon lander nearly three hours after a historic touchdown to facilitate the potential recovery of the craft once the sun illuminates its solar panels, the space agency announced on Monday.
Executing the unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission, nicknamed "Moon Sniper" for its precision landing capabilities, Japan joined the ranks of the fifth country to achieve a soft lunar landing.
Despite the successful touchdown at 20 minutes past midnight on Saturday (1520 GMT Friday), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) could not definitively confirm the generation of power from the lightweight craft's solar batteries. Before remotely powering down the lander, mission control received technical and image data from its descent and exploration of the lunar surface.
We're relieved and beginning to get excited after confirming a lot of data has been obtained. According to the telemetry data, SLIM's solar cells are facing west. If sunlight hits the Moon from the west in the future, we believe there's a possibility of power generation, and we're currently preparing for restoration.- JAXA
SLIM is part of a wave of new lunar missions initiated by both governmental bodies and private enterprises, marking 50 years since the initial human moon landing. Frequent crash landings and communication issues are characteristics of the difficult lunar exploration environment. Only four other nations have successfully reached the Moon: the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and most recently, India.
JAXA stated that it deliberately disconnected SLIM's battery just before 3:00 am (1800 GMT Friday) when it had 12 percent power remaining. This action was taken to prevent complications that could hinder the potential restart of the lander.
An illustration of the SLIM moon lander on the moon
The space agency is currently conducting an in-depth analysis of the data to ascertain whether the craft successfully achieved its objective of landing within 100 meters (330 feet) of the designated landing spot.
The mission targeted a crater where the Moon's mantle, the typically deep inner layer beneath its crust, is believed to be exposed on the surface. JAXA aimed to unravel the mystery of the Moon's potential water resources by analyzing rocks in that area - an essential aspect for plans of establishing bases on the Moon as potential stopovers on the way to Mars.
During the mission, two probes detached successfully - one equipped with a transmitter and the other designed to roam the lunar surface, transmitting images back to Earth. The shape-shifting mini-rover, slightly larger than a tennis ball, was co-developed by the company responsible for Transformer toys.
JAXA announced on Monday that further details regarding the mission's outcomes and the status of the SLIM craft would be disclosed later in the week. Despite some deviations from the plan, JAXA expressed satisfaction with the successful landing and anticipated valuable results.
It's worth noting that previous Japanese lunar missions faced setbacks, including an unsuccessful attempt in 2022 with the lunar probe Omotenashi as part of the United States's Artemis 1 mission. In April of the same year, a Japanese startup, ispace, unsuccessfully attempted to become the first private company to land on the Moon, losing communication with its craft after a described "hard landing."