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Japan's lunar probe, nicknamed the "moon sniper," successfully landed with impressive precision, but is currently in an inverted position.
Science

Japan’s lunar probe, nicknamed the “moon sniper,” successfully landed with impressive precision, but is currently in an inverted position.

A recent achievement in space exploration was made by a Japanese spacecraft as it successfully landed on the moon’s surface with precise accuracy. However, the images being transmitted back to Earth show that the probe may be in an inverted position.

Japan became only the fifth country to put a craft on the lunar surface – after the US, the Soviet Union, China and India – when its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (Slim) touched down in the early hours of Saturday.

At first, there were issues with the solar batteries on the probe, making it challenging to confirm its landing location. However, data collected by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) indicates that it landed 55 meters away from the designated spot, in a volcanic rock-covered area between two craters.

Japanese authorities stated that the landing was achieved with exceptional accuracy. Past missions have typically targeted larger touchdown areas of up to 10 kilometers in size, highlighting the numerous difficulties involved in landing on the moon, even 54 years after the initial human landing.

Shinichiro Sakai, project manager of the Slim project, with a miniature model of the probeView image in fullscreen

According to Jaxa, the probe’s landing would have been in close proximity to its intended site, within a range of three to four meters, if one of its primary engines had not experienced a loss of power during the final phase of its mission. This resulted in a rougher landing than originally predicted, as the probe was aiming for a target area of 100 meters in width.

However, officials in charge of the mission are labeling it a triumph, even though the spacecraft, known as the “moon sniper”, seems to have rolled down a crater incline, resulting in its solar panels facing the incorrect direction and being unable to produce power.

Jaxa announced that it had made transmitting landing data a top priority before Slim’s battery depleted. The agency stated that there was a possibility of the probe being able to recharge once the moon’s west side begins to receive sunlight in the upcoming days.

“We have demonstrated that it is possible to land in any desired location, rather than being limited to specific areas,” stated Shinichiro Sakai, Jaxa project manager, during a press conference. “This marks the beginning of a new era.”

According to him, the pictures received were exactly what he had envisioned. He expressed his excitement by stating, “The fact that something we created made it all the way to the moon and captured that image is astounding. I was almost brought to tears when I saw it.” He also acknowledged that Slim’s precise landing deserved a flawless rating.

Pictures taken by one of two independent probes that Slim released prior to landing reveal the box-shaped main spacecraft on the moon’s surface.

One of the robots is equipped with an antenna and a camera that recorded the probe’s landing and transmitted images back to Earth. The second is a baseball-sized rover equipped with two cameras that was jointly developed by Jaxa, the Japanese toymaker Tomy and Doshisha University.

Jaxa is examining rocks in hopes of uncovering information about the moon’s potential water sources, which could be crucial for establishing bases on the moon and using it as a potential stop on the journey to Mars.

In September, Slim was launched and initially orbited around Earth. Then, on Christmas Day, it entered into orbit around the moon.

Japan is looking to improve its space program following a string of unsuccessful attempts. In April, a spacecraft developed by a Japanese company crashed during an attempt to land on the moon, and in March, a new flagship rocket failed during its first launch.

Source: theguardian.com