Japan Moon Lander Sleeps After Sending Science — Will It Wake Up Again?

SLIM image of moon
This is the last scene of the moon taken by Japan's SLIM lander before the sun dropped beneath the lunar horizon. (JAXA Photo)

After a few days of wakefulness, Japan’s SLIM moon lander has gone dormant once more at the start of a 14-day-long lunar night. The upended robot sent back a stream of data and imagery while its solar cells were in position to soak up sunlight, and its handlers hope they can get SLIM to wake up again and resume its work after lunar sunrise in mid-February.

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

Photo of the SLIM lander on the surface of the Moon - showing it tipped onto its side.
Photo of SLIM Lander

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.

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Japan’s Moon Lander Is Lying On Its Side After Hitting Its Target

Image of SLIM lander on moon
An image sent back by a mini-probe shows Japan's SLIM lander on its side on the lunar surface. (JAXA / Takara Tomy / Sony Group / Doshisha Univ.)

Now we know why Japan’s lunar lander wasn’t able to recharge its batteries after touching down on the moon last week: The spacecraft appears to have tumbled onto its side, with its solar cells facing away from the sun.

The good news is that the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, achieved its primary mission of setting down within 100 meters (330 feet) of its target point — and that the mission’s two mini-probes, which were ejected during SLIM’s descent, are working as intended.

Scores of images were taken before and after landing. One of the pictures. captured by a camera on the ball-shaped LEV-2 mini-probe, shows the lander sitting at an odd angle with its thrusters facing upward and its solar cells facing westward.

To conserve battery power, mission managers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency shut down SLIM after the probes transmitted the imagery they collected. But there’s still a chance that the sun’s shifting rays could provide enough power to allow for further operations in the week ahead.

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Japan’s Moon Lander Touches Down, But Power Problem Mars Its Mission

Illustration: SLIM lander on the moon
An artist's conception shows Japan's SLIM lander on the moon. (ISAS / JAXA Illustration)

Update for Jan. 21: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency shut down its moon lander to conserve battery power, but says the lander might be recharged and revived if sunlight hits the solar cells at the right angle.

Japan has become the fifth nation to land a functioning robot on the moon, but the mission could fall short of complete success due to a problem with the lander’s power-generating solar cells.

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