Japan’s SLIM lunar lander made it to the moon, but it’ll likely die within hours

Japan today became the fifth country to successfully land on the moon after confirming that the SLIM lander survived its descent to the surface – but its mission will be short-lived. The Japanese space agency JAXA reports that the spacecraft is experiencing problems with its solar battery and is unable to generate electricity. In its current state, the battery may only have enough juice to last for a few hours.

Based on how the other instruments are performing, JAXA said at a press conference this afternoon that it’s clear that SLIM is making a soft landing. The spacecraft has been able to communicate with Earth and receive commands, but is running on low battery power. It’s not clear what the problem with the solar cell is other than the fact that it doesn’t work.

There’s a chance the panels aren’t currently facing the right direction to receive sunlight, which means it can start charging when the sun changes position. But JAXA says it will take more time to figure out what happened. The two smaller rovers named LEV-1 and LEV-2 that accompanied SLIM to the Moon successfully separated from the lander before landing as planned and so far appear to be operational.

JAXA says it is now focusing on maximizing the operational time it has left with SLIM to get as much data as possible from the lander. SLIM – Intelligent Lander for Lunar Exploration – has been dubbed the “Lunar Sniper” due to its precision landing technology that must place it within 100 meters of its target Shioli Crater. The agency plans to hold another press conference next week to share more updates.

Despite running out of time, SLIM’s landing was still a huge success. Only four other countries have successfully landed on the moon: the United States, China, India and Russia. America’s last attempt, the privately led Peregrine Mission One, ended in failure after the spacecraft began leaking fuel shortly after its January 8 launch. He managed to hold on for a few more days and even reached the distance of the Moon, but there was no chance of a soft landing. the company behind the lander confirmed last night that Peregrine had made a controlled re-entry after burning up in Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific.

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