Japan’s SLIM moon lander resumes operation as it survives second lunar night

Japan’s first successful moon lander, called SLIM, is still alive on the lunar surface.

Japanese rover LEV-2 photographs SLIM spacecraft on the lunar surface
Japanese rover LEV-2 photographs SLIM spacecraft on the lunar surface. (Image credit: JAXA)

Japan’s space agency, JAXA, has been able to re-establish communication with the SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) spacecraft on March 27, 2024, as it survives the long, harsh lunar night for the second time. JAXA said it as:

“Last night, we received a response from SLIM, confirming that the spacecraft made it through the lunar night for the second time! Since the sun was still high and the equipment was still hot, we only took some shots of the usual scenery with the navigation camera.”

This is a great achievement for JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), because the solar-powered SLIM spacecraft was not designed to survive the harsh lunar nights.

A particular spot on the lunar surface faces sunlight for approximately 14.5 consecutive days and then darkness for approximately 14.5 consecutive days. So one lunar night is approximately equal to 14.5 Earth days.

During the long lunar night, the lunar nighttime temperature drops to about -208°F (-130°C), so there is a possibility that the solar cells of the spacecraft will be completely dead.

But this did not happen for the SLIM spacecraft and this is the second time that the spacecraft has passed through the long lunar night and woken up.

However, after waking up for the second time on the lunar surface, the spacecraft’s performance has slightly declined. JAXA said it as:

“According to the acquired data, some temperature sensors and unused battery cells are starting to malfunction, but the majority of functions that survived the first lunar night was mantained even after the second lunar night!”

Currently, the spacecraft is on its extended mission and has achieved what it was supposed to achieve.

It has achieved an almost pinpoint landing, deployed two tiny rover LEV-1 and LEV-2 on the lunar surface, completed spectroscopic observation through its onboard Multi-Band Camera (MBC), and observed more targets than originally planned.

SLIM spacecraft timeline

Japan’s space agency (JAXA) launched the SLIM spacecraft on September 6, 2023, at 7:42 p.m. EDT (or 23:42 UTC) from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, atop a H-IIA rocket. 

The spacecraft landed on the lunar surface on January 19 at 10:20 a.m. EST (or 15:20 UTC).

However, the spacecraft’s landing was not smooth, as one of its two main engines failed during descent, causing it to land upside down on the lunar surface.

The spacecraft landed on the slope of Shioli crater on the lunar surface. The coordinates of the landing site are 13.3°S, 25.2°E, with an elevation of minus 2,992 feet (minus 912 meters). So it’s near the lunar equator.

The spacecraft entered a dormant state on January 31, 2024, because the first lunar night came to the landing site.

The spacecraft resumed its activity on February 25, 2024, on the lunar surface as it survived the first lunar night.

The spacecraft entered a dormant state again on March 1, 2024, because the second lunar night came to the landing site.

Again, the spacecraft resumed its activity on March 27, 2024, on the lunar surface as it survived the second lunar night.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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