An illustration of JAXA’s SLIM spacecraft on the moon.
Japan successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon for the first time in the nation’s history.But the spacecraft isn’t generating solar energy to power is suite of scientific instruments.Japan’s space agency is extracting as much data as possible before the spacecraft’s batteries die.
On Friday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced that its SLIM spacecraft had successfully landed on the moon.
It’s a momentous day for the nation as the landing marks the first time Japan has ever softly touched down on the lunar surface.
The feat makes Japan the third nation to land on the moon in the 21st century, behind China and India, and the fifth nation to ever do so.
But the spacecraft isn’t generating solar power. It’s running on batteries, which are rapidly depleting and only have a few hours left of life, JAXA said in a press conference following the touchdown.
So JAXA is racing against the clock, trying to extract as much data from the spacecraft as possible before the batteries run out.
The spacecraft snapped pictures of the lunar surface as it descended, which JAXA hopes to beam back to Earth. The agency also hopes to obtain data on what happened during the descent to assess the spacecraft’s status.
The mission isn’t over yet
A photo of Shioli crater, where Japan plans to make history.
James Stuby based on NASA image – Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera observation
SLIM, short for “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon,” was scheduled to touch down near a small impact crater, called Shioli crater, on the near side of the moon — the side that faces Earth.
It has a suite of scientific instruments and two tiny rovers. But many of these instruments may go unused if the spacecraft can’t generate solar energy to power them.
It’s unclear why the solar cells on SLIM aren’t working. One reason could be that they are angled in the wrong direction, Hitoshi Kuninaka, the head of JAXA’s space lab, said during the press conference.
If that’s the case, then there’s still a possibility that, as the moon moves through space, the angle of the sun will change and could strike the panels, powering them up, Kuninaka added.
JAXA said the solar cell issue doesn’t mean the end of the mission but that it needs to reassess the state of the spacecraft to determine its next steps.
Even though the mission didn’t go exactly according to plan, Kuninaka said that JAXA considers it a success since the spacecraft successfully touched down on the moon.