Japan’s SLIM spacecraft lands on the moon but suffers electricity generation problems

The uncrewed SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) spacecraft of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully touched down on the lunar surface on Friday, January 19, at 10:20 a.m. EST (or 15:20 UTC).

Japan’s SLIM spacecraft landed on the moon (artist’s illustration)
Japan’s SLIM spacecraft landed on the moon (artist’s illustration). (Image credit: JAXA)

The spacecraft has landed on the slope of SHIOLI crater on the lunar surface. The coordinates of the landing site are 13.3°S, 25.2°E. So it’s near to the lunar equator.

After touch down, communication of the spacecraft from the mission control room has been successfully established.

However the solar cell of the spacecraft is not generating electricity and currently the spacecraft is using its internal battery power which would last only for several hours.

The engineers on the mission are trying hard to solve the electricity generation problem. Otherwise, the mission will be dead after a few hours.

SLIM is the first Japanese spacecraft to successfully soft-land on the lunar surface, and now Japan becomes the fifth country to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface successfully after the Soviet Union, the U.S., China, and India.

However, this is not the first attempt by Japan to land on the moon. The Japan Space Agency’s (JAXA) OMOTENASHI mission failed in 2022 as the agency couldn’t communicate with the tiny OMOTENASHI spacecraft.

In April 2023, a Japanese private space company called ispace attempted a soft landing on the lunar surface through a mission called HAKUTO-R Mission 1. Unfortunately, this mission was also unsuccessful as the spacecraft crash landed on the lunar surface.

Although JAXA has landed robotic spacecraft on asteroids twice, soft landing on the lunar surface is very difficult due to low gravity. So it’s obviously a great feat for Japan.

The aim of SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) is to demonstrate high-precision landing technology on the moon. For this reason, the size of the spacecraft has been kept small and lightweight so that it can land within 100 meters of the landing site.

If it is achieved, then it will be an unprecedented event for future space exploration. However, JAXA said it will take some time to confirm the pin-point landing.

Please remember that conventional lunar landers can land with an accuracy of several kilometers to tens of kilometers.

SLIM mission timeline

An artist's illustration shows Japan's SLIM spacecraft before landing on the lunar surface
An artist’s illustration shows Japan’s SLIM spacecraft before landing on the lunar surface. (Image credit: JAXA)

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

SLIM is an irregular-shaped lightweight spacecraft with dimensions of 2.4m x 1.7m x 2.7m and a mass of 200kg (dry) or 700–730 kg (wet).

The spacecraft entered lunar orbit on Christmas Day, December 25, 2023, and since then, its elliptical lunar orbit has been gradually reduced.

The spacecraft started its landing descent on January 19, at 10:00 a.m. EST (or 15:00 UTC), i.e., 20 minutes before landing, when it is at an altitude of 15 km above the lunar surface.

A live broadcast of the SLIM spacecraft’s lunar landing if you missed it:

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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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