Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Japan’s SLIM ‘moon sniper’ reaches lunar orbit ahead of landmark landing

Japan will attempt to become just the fifth country in the world to soft-land a spacecraft on the Moon.

Artistic illustration of JAXA's SLIM lunar lander.Artistic illustration of JAXA's SLIM lunar lander. (JAXA)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Tuesday announced that its “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon” or SLIM lander successfully went into lunar orbit at 1.21 PM IST. If it succeeds, it will land Japan in the exclusive list of countries that can soft land a probe on the Moon. The same club that India joined when Chandrayaan-3 landed this year.

SLIM was inserted into an elliptical lunar orbit connecting the Moon’s south and north poles with a period of about 6.4 hours. Its altitude will be about 600 kilometres at the point closest to the Moon (perilune) and 4,000 kilometres at the point furthest away from the Moon (apolune). From now until mid-January 2024, the Japanese space agency will lower the apolune point. The perilune point will also be lowered to an altitude of 15 kilometres on January 19. The lander will start descending towards the Moon on January 20.

The mission took off on September 6 this year after several weather-related postponements. SLIM, dubbed the “Moon sniper,” took a uniquely long route to the Moon. If successful, it will also be the smallest and lightest spacecraft to land on the Moon. Interestingly, SLIM is the second Japanese mission to target a soft landing on the Moon. Hakuto, a private commercial mission led by Tokyo-based space technology firm ispace, failed crashed on to the lunar surface in April this year.

SLIM is a very small spacecraft, weighing just 200 kilograms. To put that into context, the Chandrayaan-3 lander weighed about 1,750 kilograms. The mission’s main objective is to demonstrate precision landing capabilities by landing within 100 metres of the chosen site.

According to JAXA, pinpoint landing technology is essential to make sure that a spacecraft can land close enough to scientifically interesting sites on the Moon that are accessible by a rover. SLIM aims to land near a small crater named Shinoli in the equatorial region.

First published on: 26-12-2023 at 13:08 IST
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