Against all Odds. Japan’s SLIM Lander Survived a Second Lunar Night Upside Down

You might remember the SLIM lunar lander that managed to land upside-down! The probe from the Japanese Space Agency has survived its second night on the Moon and returns a new photograph. Despite the solar panels pointing away from the Sun during the day it was still able to capture the image and transmit to Earth. All that while surviving the harsh -130C lunar night. 

The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) sent SLIM (the Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon) back in January but the lightweight spacecraft landed completely wrong. Despite the wonky landing, SLIM touching down in one piece made Japan the fifth nation to land on the surface without crashing. The biggest problem for the mission was the solar panels pointing the wrong way. To the surprise of JAXA though they were able to announce the probe awoke for a second night. 

The lander’s purpose was to research and test the pinpoint landing technology for future lunar missions. The hope is that it will pave the way for future missions to land where we want them to rather than where it is safest and easy to land. This will have benefits for landing on the Moon and on other astronomical bodies. 

The black and white image sent back revealed the rocky surface and a lunar crater. It was released on the SLIM official social media platform with the accompanying text ‘Since the Sun was still high in the sky and the equipment was still hot, we recorded images of the usual scenery with the navigational camera, among other activities for a short period of time.’

The post came shortly after an American unscrewed lander known as Odysseus had failed to wake. The craft became the first American spacecraft to land on the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. It also became the first privately funded probe to land safely on the Moon’s surface. In a similar landing to SLIM, Odysseus (which came in at just over 4 metres tall) also managed to topple over onto its side following an approach that was too fast. The manufacturers of the Odysseus spacecraft, Intuitive Machines based in Houston, had hoped that it might awake just like SLIM but sadly this does not seem to have occurred. 

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rises from its Florida launch pad to send Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus moon lander spaceward. (NASA via YouTube)

Aside from testing the precision landing technology, SLIM also aims to study part of the Moon’s mantle which it is thought was accessible at the landing site. After its landing, it switched off to save power but the incoming sunlight managed to switch it back on again to enable a couple of days to scientific observations. Given that the probe was not designed to survive the lunar nights, it was a fabulous surprise and bonus for the team.

Source : Japan moon probe survives second lunar night

Mark Thompson

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