Astronomy

Japan’s SLIM Lander Finds Power Even Though It’s Face Down

The Moon is a bit of a hot bed for exploration of late.  The Japanese agency JAXA have been getting in on the act but their SLIM lander fell on its side with its solar panels pointing toward the ground. Until today, JAXA thought that was it but today it seems that they have managed to re-established contact again.

JAXA’s first lunar lander known as SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) was designed to demonstrate the ability to land on the Moon. The mission was particularly wanting to show how precision can be applied to lunar landings. During the descent, craters were identified using technology developed for facial recognition and location pinpointed by the lunar orbiter SELENE. They hoped to land with an accuracy of 100m which, in comparison to the historic Apollo 11 mission accepted a 20km range. 

JAXA’s H-IIA Launch Vehicle taking off from the Tanegashima Space Center. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/NARITA Masahiro

On its arrival on January 20th one of the two engines lost power so with reduced power, the landing was compromised. On touchdown it somehow slid and tumbled down the side of a crater leaving its solar panels unable to generate electricity. Reacting swiftly the team immediately commanded the lander to transmit landing data before the power ran out.  As the lander sat there quietly out of power, the team waited, hoping that the batteries may recharge once other aspects of the Moon started to receive sunlight. 

Fortunately during the final stages of the descent the two probes on board were successfully deployed. One of them a tiny hoping robot and the other designed to roll about the surface. Thankfully they both seemed to be working well with one image having been beamed back to show the orientation of the spacecraft on its side. Not only did the probes function well but the on board navigation camera captured images during the descent showing the rocky terrain just before touch down. 

Even though the mission ended in a slightly unplanned way it still managed to land within its 100 metre target, hitting 55 metres from its identified spot.  A couple of hours after touchdown the team decided to switch off the power to conserve power for a possible power up when solar energy allowed. 

In a post on the company ‘X’ profile the team confirmed that sufficient sunlight had managed to trickle in to give the batteries enough power to boot up and operations resumed.

Source : JAXA ‘X’ feed

Mark Thompson

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