In a historic achievement, Japan’s robotic SLIM spacecraft softly touched down on the lunar surface on the morning of January 19, making Japan the fifth nation to achieve this milestone.
The success was celebrated by Yamakawa Hiroshi, President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), during a post-landing press conference.
“First and foremost, landing was successful. We should be able to access the lunar surface. I believe that there is a path opening to that now,” stated Hiroshi.
However, the jubilation was short-lived as JAXA engineers discovered a significant issue with SLIM’s solar cells.
For reasons not yet fully understood, the solar cells are not functioning, forcing all surface operations to rely on SLIM’s batteries. This predicament leaves the lander with only a few hours of operational life.
Officials are taking immediate actions to assess the situation. They have deactivated heaters and are retrieving images and data to evaluate the performance of the landing software.
Despite the current challenge, JAXA remains committed to the mission and won’t give up on SLIM if it falls silent.
Hitoshi Kuninaka, Director-General of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science and vice-president of JAXA, expressed optimism about the situation.
“The battery will last several more hours; those hours will be the remaining life of Slim,” he said. The team is cautious not to take any “too excessive” measures but is hopeful that SLIM could regain power when the solar angle changes.
Kuninaka explained, “The solar angle will change every month, and the sunlight on the Moon will change. When the light from Earth shines from a different direction, it could hit the solar cell, so we are considering this and we are hoping for SLIM to regain power.”
SLIM, short for “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon,” was launched in September alongside an X-ray space telescope called XRISM.
While XRISM successfully deployed into low Earth orbit, SLIM embarked on a journey to the more distant celestial shores, making its recent lunar landing a significant achievement for Japan’s space exploration efforts.