Tokyo: Japan’s space agency (JAXA) announced on Thursday that its lunar lander, named ‘Slim’, had reached its intended destination on the moon, but was facing the wrong way. The lander, part of the ‘Smart Lander’ or ‘Japan Moon Mission’ project, was supposed to touch down near Shioli Crater, an area of scientific interest, on Saturday. However, due to a technical glitch, it landed about 55 meters (60 yards) away from the target, and upside down. The lander has sent some images of the lunar surface, but they are inverted. JAXA said it was still investigating the cause of the problem and the status of the lander.
The ‘Slim’ lander is Japan’s first attempt to land a spacecraft on the moon, and the fifth country in the world to do so, after the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India. The lander was launched on December 7, 2023, from the Tanegashima Space Center, aboard an H-IIA rocket. The lander was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of low-cost and high-precision lunar exploration, using innovative technologies such as laser navigation and terrain recognition.
The lander was supposed to make a soft landing near Shioli Crater, a region that is believed to contain volcanic material from the moon’s early history. The lander was equipped with a camera, a spectrometer, and a seismometer, to conduct scientific observations and experiments on the lunar surface. The lander was also expected to communicate with a relay satellite, named ‘Ouna’, that was orbiting the moon.
However, things did not go as planned. The lander’s main engine, which was supposed to slow down the spacecraft and guide it to the landing site, lost expected power about 50 meters (54 yd) above the lunar surface, preventing the planned landing. The lander then fell to the ground, landing about 55 meters (60 yards) away from the target, and upside down. The lander’s solar panels, which were supposed to provide power to the spacecraft, were also damaged.
The lander managed to send some images of the lunar surface, but they were inverted, as the lander was facing the wrong way. The images showed a box-shaped area of the moon, with some rocks and craters. JAXA project manager Shinichiro Sakai said that the images sent were exactly what he had imagined and seen in computer graphics, but he was disappointed that the lander did not land as planned.
JAXA said it was still investigating the cause of the problem and the status of the lander. It said it was trying to determine whether the lander was still functional and whether it could perform any scientific tasks. It also said it was looking into the possibility of flipping the lander over, using its thrusters or its robotic arm. JAXA said it hoped to learn from the experience and improve its future lunar missions.