Japan's SLIM mission makes historic moon landing, but module's solar cells don't produce power

A Japanese space module landed on the Moon and communication could be established, the Japanese space agency JAXA announced on Friday January 19

Japan's SLIM mission makes historic moon landing, but module's solar cells don't produce power

A Japanese space module landed on the Moon and communication could be established, the Japanese space agency JAXA announced on Friday January 19. “The solar cells [of the probe] do not produce energy,” she added, however.

The probe, called SLIM, was to land within a radius of 100 meters from its target, a radius considered a high degree of precision in the context of lunar missions. This earned him the nickname “Moon Sniper.”

Landing precisely on the Moon was “a huge challenge” for SLIM, explained Emily Brunsden, director of the Astrocampus at the University of York. The challenge of this precision of the “Sniper” was to be “an enormous technological progress which will allow the design of missions aimed at answering much more specific research questions”.

Indeed, it is common for lunar vehicles to land several kilometers from their target, which can complicate their exploration missions. And landing on the Moon is more difficult than landing on asteroids, because the Moon's gravity is stronger than that of small celestial bodies.

Module co-designed by Japanese toy giant Tomy

The probe carries SORA-Q, a spherical robot barely larger than a tennis ball, capable of modifying its shape to move on the lunar surface. It was developed by JAXA in partnership with Japanese toy giant Takara Tomy.

SLIM was to land in a small crater less than 300 meters in diameter called Shioli, in order to carry out ground analyzes of rocks believed to come from the lunar mantle, the internal structure of the Earth's natural satellite, which is still very poorly understood. These rocks “are crucial for research into the origin of the Moon and the Earth,” underlines Tomokatsu Morota, lecturer at the University of Tokyo and specialist in space exploration, to Agence France-Presse.

This Japanese mission also aims to advance research on the Moon's water resources, a key question as the United States and China ultimately intend to install inhabited bases there. The presence of water ice has been demonstrated at the bottom of craters in the polar regions of the Moon, which are therefore now attracting all the attention.

More than fifty years after man's first steps on the Moon by the Americans in 1969, the Moon has once again become the subject of a global race in which the rivalry between the United States and China plays a central role. . Many other countries and private companies are also interested in it, such as Russia, which dreams of reconnecting with the space glory of the USSR, by joining forces in particular with China or India, which succeeded last summer his first moon landing.

World Race

Japan's first two attempts to land on the moon went wrong. In 2022, a JAXA mini-probe, Omotenashi ("hospitality", in Japanese), which was on board the American Artemis-1 mission, experienced a fatal battery failure shortly after being ejected into space . And in April 2023, a lander from the young private Japanese company Ispace crashed on the surface of the Moon, having failed during the gentle descent stage.

On January 8, the first American device to attempt to land on the Moon in more than fifty years encountered an “anomaly” in flight, after its successful takeoff, announced the company that developed it, Astrobotic. This American company, under contract with NASA, announced Thursday that its lander, Peregrine, had been deliberately lost, probably disintegrated upon re-entering the Earth's atmosphere before reaching its objective.

Reaching the Moon remains an immense technological challenge, even for the major space powers. NASA has postponed the next two missions of its major return to the Moon Artemis program by almost a year, to September 2025 and September 2026.