Japan’s Moon lander achieves precise lunar touchdown, makes nose-first landing

Japan’s historic lunar touchdown took an unexpected turn as its Moon lander, Slim, (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) ended up on its nose, rotated 90 degrees from the intended position. The small robot, Sora-Q, deployed from Slim, captured the first image revealing the abnormality in the landing attitude caused by a malfunctioning thruster during descent, hindering electricity generation.

To transmit the image to Earth, Sora-Q relayed it to another ejected rover, Lev-1, which maintains independent communication with mission control. Slim, unable to activate its solar cells, entered hibernation three hours post-arrival due to a draining battery. The assumption is that its orientation prevents solar cells from sunlight, with plans to awaken Slim when lighting angles change at the landing site.

Before hibernation, Slim’s infrared camera provided images of the lunar surface, confirming a precise landing 55m east of the target. The successful landing made Japan the fifth nation to achieve a soft Moon touchdown alongside the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Slim’s precision-navigation technologies, utilizing rapid image processing and crater mapping, enabled it to avoid hazards and reach the intended location, impressing officials.

Both Sora-Q and Lev-1 showcased remarkable movements on the lunar surface, demonstrating groundbreaking inter-robot communication and autonomous operations for future lunar explorations, reinforcing valuable technological advancements.

Photo credit: JAXA