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February 22, 2024

Japan Attempts Historic Precision Moon Landing

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Jan 19, 2024

Japan is attempting a historic first-of-its-kind precise lunar landing on January 20th 2024 with its SLIM spacecraft, part of the country’s renewed focus on space exploration. If successful, Japan would become the fourth country after the U.S., former Soviet Union, and China to softly land a spacecraft on the lunar surface.

Lead up to Launch

SLIM, which stands for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, was launched in March 2022 aboard an Epsilon rocket from the Uchinoura Space Center. The small box-shaped lander has been orbiting the Moon for nearly two years, preparing for its daring landing attempt.

What makes SLIM’s landing unique is its precision – it aims to touch down within a targeted 100 meter area near the lunar south pole’s Shackleton Crater using onboard cameras and sensors. This pinpoint accuracy would allow SLIM to land in areas too risky for previous missions, enabling new lunar science.

Key SLIM Mission Details:

Launch Date March 2022
Landing Site Lunar South Pole Region
Landing Method Autonomous precision landing within 100 m target zone
Mission Length 1 year on lunar surface
Key Instruments Cameras, temperature sensors, radar

Landing Sequence

On January 20th, flight controllers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s Sagamihara campus will oversee this critical make-or-break landing phase for SLIM. The complex procedure, which JAXA is calling “20 minutes of terror”, begins when the lander separates from its orbiter mothership around 60 miles up. SLIM will then fire braking rockets to drop out of lunar orbit and make its powered descent.

[Landing Sequence Flow Chart]

As it nears the surface, SLIM will use cameras and lidar sensors to identify and lock onto its landing zone – a rocky highland area – autonomously adjusting its course. Then, about 6 feet above the surface, SLIM will briefly hover and scan the terrain before touching down softly using shock absorbing cushions in its landing legs.

If successful, researchers will celebrate SLIM phoning home its landing data and images from the lunar frontier – a first for Japan’s space program.

New Science Goals

Beyond the daring landing, SLIM carries two compact but powerful science instruments to study the lunar environment. An onboard camera suite will capture detailed stereo images and video of the stark lunar terrain from the surface for the first time by a Japanese probe.

Meanwhile, temperature sensors and radar will measure subsurface structure down to over 30 feet deep – much deeper than previous lunar penetrators. These readings could provide insights on potential water ice deposits deep beneath the Moon’s south pole surface.

Understanding the distribution of this precious resource will be critical for future sustainable lunar exploration, as water ice could provide drinking water, breathable oxygen, and rocket fuel production sites.

What’s Next

If it survives its risky touchdown attempt, SLIM is built to operate on the lunar surface for about a year, powered by onboard batteries and solar panels. This would allow SLIM to study the extreme environmental conditions through a full lunar day/night cycle.

The lessons learned from SLIM’s precision landing and science will provide valuable experience as Japan develops an ambitious follow-on lunar exploration program in partnership with the U.S. and Europe over the next decade. Dubbed SELENE-B, this future mission plans to return new samples from the Moon’s previously unexplored far side.

So while nail-biting in the short term, the SLIM lander represents another step in humanity’s return to the Moon – this time to establish a permanent presence focused on groundbreaking science and space technology innovations.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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