Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) revealed on Monday that it intentionally powered down its Moon lander, part of the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission, approximately three hours after its historic and precise lunar touchdown.
Despite achieving the milestone as the fifth country to successfully perform a soft lunar landing, uncertainties arose when JAXA couldn’t confirm if the lightweight craft’s solar batteries were generating power post-landing.
Before remotely deactivating the lander, mission control successfully received technical and image data from SLIM’s descent and lunar surface interactions. JAXA expressed relief, stating, “According to telemetry data, SLIM’s solar cells are facing west.” The agency believes that if sunlight hits the Moon from the west in the future, there’s a possibility of power generation, and preparations for restoration are underway.
SLIM, among various new lunar missions globally, represents a collaborative effort between governments and private firms, marking 50 years since the first human Moon landing. Notwithstanding common challenges such as crash landings and communication failures, only four other countries – the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India – have achieved lunar landings.
JAXA clarified that SLIM’s battery was intentionally disconnected just before 3:00 am when it had 12 percent power remaining. This precautionary measure aimed to prevent any hindrance to a potential restart of the lander. The agency is currently conducting a detailed analysis of the data to determine if SLIM achieved its goal of landing within 100 meters of the intended spot, situated in a lunar crater revealing the Moon’s mantle.
Two probes deployed successfully during the mission, with one equipped with a transmitter and another designed to explore the lunar surface while transmitting images back to Earth. Despite some deviations from the original plan, JAXA expressed optimism about producing meaningful results and is set to make further announcements this week regarding the mission’s outcomes and the status of the SLIM craft.
This achievement follows previous setbacks in Japanese lunar exploration, including the unsuccessful lunar probe Omotenashi in 2022 and a private company’s failed attempt in April to land on the Moon, underscoring the complexities and uncertainties inherent in lunar missions.