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Japan says 'moon sniper' hit its pinpoint target

January 25, 2024

Japan's space agency JAXA has said its SLIM moon probe successfully landed on the lunar surface within 100 meters of its intended touchdown target.

Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM)
JAXA says this landing technology will become a powerful tool in future exploration of hilly moon poles Image: JAXA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Thursday said its lunar probe had landed close to its target on the moon's surface.

The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) achieved an unprecedented "pinpoint" landing within 100 meters (about 330 feet) of its target, the agency said.

What we know about the landing

Immediately after the landing, there were fears that the probe might not have made it.

 "SLIM succeeded in a pin-point soft landing... the landing point is confirmed to be 55 meters away from the target point," the space agency said.

However, the probe's solar panels were not able to generate electricity because they were facing the wrong direction.

Japan releases images of 'pinpoint' moon landing

The lunar landing just after midnight Japanese time last Saturday made Japan the fifth nation to put a craft on the surface of the moon after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India. 

However, the celebrations were muted because of a problem with the lightweight spacecraft's solar batteries, which had been unable to generate power.

JAXA switched the craft off with 12% of power left to allow for a possible recovery when the sun's angle changes.

What's so special about the landing?

JAXA said the craft's landing technology could allow moon missions to land "where we want to, rather than where it is easy to land." SLIM could be a powerful tool for the future exploration of the hilly poles of the moon. Those areas are  potential source of resources necessary to sustain life — water, oxygen, and possible fuel. 

It will take up to a month to verify whether SLIM had achieved the high-precision goals, JAXA has said.

Japan Moon Mission

Several lunar landing attempts by Japan have failed, including last year when it sent a probe called Omotenashi as part of the US Artemis program.

Omotenashi would have been the world's smallest moon lander, but it lost contact.

In April, a Japanese start-up called ispace failed in an ambitious attempt to become the first private company to land on the moon.

India's historic touchdown came in August when its Chandrayaan-3 probe landed on the moon's south pole. The country has announced plans to set up a space station by 2040.

rc/wmr (AFP, Reuters)