Japanese SLIM lunar lander is again ‘asleep’, and maybe for good.
Its mission has been equal parts historic and troubled, because while the landing was done with unprecedented level of accuracy – living up to the ‘moon sniper’ nickname – something also went wrong, as we finally discovered that SLIM lander was upside down.
The wrong position meant that the solar cells were not receiving sun light and therefore batteries were rapidly discharging.
Mission control has to turn the spacecraft off, waiting for the sun to move to the west during the lunar day.
But SLIM ‘came back to life’.
“Against all odds, Japan’s SLIM lander managed to turn back on more than a week after it plopped upside down onto the surface of the moon — but now, it’s gone dormant for the duration of the lunar night, and it may not be able to wake up again.”
The Japanese space agency, JAXA, shared the last image the lander captured at the moon’s Shioli crater.
Lunar night lasts the equivalent of two Earth weeks, and can get colder than -200 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The team has confirmed that the solar powered lander is in a dormant state that will last at least the duration of the lunar night. Its chances of resuming operations afterward aren’t great, but then again, it’s already surprised us once.
‘Although SLIM was not designed for the harsh lunar nights, we plan to try to operate again from mid-February, when the Sun will shine again on SLIM’s solar cells’, the team wrote on X. If this truly is SLIM’s last photo, it sure is a spooky one.”
After completing operation from 1/30 ~ 1/31, #SLIM entered a two week dormancy period during the long lunar night . Although SLIM was not designed for the harsh lunar nights, we plan to try to operate again from mid-February, when the Sun will shine again on SLIM’s solar cells. pic.twitter.com/JO4ZgDaOxo
— 小型月着陸実証機SLIM (@SLIM_JAXA) February 1, 2024
But even if SLIM never turns on again, it has already written its name in the book of space exploration with its January 20 landing.
“Despite a power issue with the lander, the event holds both political and technical importance. It’s Japan’s first lunar landing – making it only the fifth country in the world to successfully land on the moon. This is a significant achievement and solidifies Japan’’ position as a leader in space technology.”
Besides the precise landing, another successful feature of the mission was the deployment of its two small rovers.
“Japan’s achievement isn’t only symbolic – Japan is demonstrating a number of new technologies with the lander. The name, Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon, refers to the spacecraft’s new precision-landing technology.
This technology could assist future landings by allowing spacecraft to land in relatively small areas amid rocky or uneven terrain, rather than having to find large clearings. This ability will be particularly important in the future as countries focus on very specific areas of interest at the lunar south pole.”
Lunar Excursion Vehicle 1 includes a camera and scientific equipment, uses a hopping mechanism to maneuver on the moon. Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 is a sphere small enough to fit in the palm of our hand that rolls around the surface.
“There is a geopolitical element to these activities. China, India and Japan – the three nations that have successfully landed on the moon since 2000 – engage in regional competition across a number of areas, including space. In addition to regional considerations, these accomplishments help to establish nations as leaders on a global scale – capable of something that few nations have ever done.”