Slim" mission: Japan's space module on the Moon soon to run out of power

Sylvie Claire / January 21, 2024

 

Japan's SLIM space module successfully landed on the Moon after a breathless 20-minute descent on Friday night, but its module may soon run out of power due to a solar panel problem.
 
But without working solar panels, SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon), nicknamed "Moon Sniper" for its ability to land with precision, will only have power for "several hours", warned Hitoshi Kuninaka, one of the heads of Jaxa.
 
It is possible that the panels will work again once the angle of the sun has changed, he said, while the team worked to maximize the mission's scientific results by transmitting the data obtained back to Earth.
 
"It's unlikely that the solar panels have failed. It is possible that they are not oriented in the direction initially planned," he told a press conference. If the descent had been unsuccessful, the probe would have crashed at very high speed. If that were the case, all its functions would be lost. But data is being sent back to Earth ».
 
SLIM is one of a number of lunar missions launched recently by private companies and countries. To date, however, only the United States, the Soviet Union, China and, more recently, India have successfully landed on the Moon.
This small unmanned craft (2.4 m long, 1.7 m wide and 2.7 m high) not only had to land on the moon, but also within a 100-meter radius of its target - a radius considered to be a high degree of precision. Hence the nickname "Moon Sniper ».
 
It's common for lunar spacecraft to land several kilometers from their target, which can complicate their exploration missions. And landing on the Moon is more difficult than landing on asteroids - a feat already achieved, including by Jaxa - because gravity on the Moon is stronger than on small celestial bodies.
 
Landing accurately on the Moon is "a huge challenge" for SLIM, Emily Brunsden, Director of the Astrocampus at the University of York, told AFP. The precision of the "Sniper" is "a huge technological advance that will enable us to design missions to answer much more specific research questions". But achieving this feat is "technologically exceptionally difficult". "There is usually only one chance, so the slightest error can result in mission failure", she warned.
 
SLIM was to land in a small crater, less than 300 meters in diameter, called Shioli, from where it would be able to conduct ground-based analyses of rocks believed to come from the lunar mantle, the internal structure of Earth's natural satellite, which is still very poorly understood.
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