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Japan craft made successful pin-point landing, space agency says

Tokyo, Jan 25 (AFP) Jan 25, 2024
Japan's "Moon Sniper" craft landed around 55 metres (180 feet) from its target, the country's space agency said Thursday as it released the first images from the mission.

The unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), dubbed the "Moon Sniper" for its pin-point technology, had the goal of touching down within 100 metres (330 feet) of a specific landing spot.

That is much more precise than the usual landing zone of several kilometres.

"SLIM succeeded in a pin-point soft landing... the landing point is confirmed to be 55 metres away from the target point," space agency JAXA said.

Saturday's soft lunar landing made Japan only the fifth nation to achieve the feat, after the United States, Soviet Union, China and India.

But celebrations were muted because of a problem with the lightweight spacecraft's solar batteries, which were not generating power.

JAXA decided to switch the craft off with 12 percent power remaining, to allow for a possible recovery when the sun's angle changes.

"If sunlight hits the Moon from the west in the future, we believe there's a possibility of power generation, and we're currently preparing for restoration," JAXA said earlier this week.

Before switching SLIM off, mission control was able to download technical and image data from the craft's descent and the lunar surface.

On Thursday, JAXA published the first colour images from the mission -- showing the SLIM craft sitting intact at a slight angle on the rocky grey surface, lunar slopes rising in the distance.

The mission was aiming for a crater where the Moon's mantle, the usually deep inner layer beneath its crust, is believed to be exposed on the surface.

By analysing the rocks there, JAXA hopes to shed light on the mystery of the Moon's possible water resources, key to building bases there one day as possible stopovers on the way to Mars.

Two probes detached successfully from SLIM on Saturday: one with a transmitter and another designed to trundle around the lunar surface beaming images to Earth.

This shape-shifting mini-rover, slightly bigger than a tennis ball, was co-developed by the firm behind the Transformer toys and took the picture released by JAXA on Thursday.

SLIM is one of several recent lunar missions by governments and private firms, 50 years after the first human Moon landing.

But technical problems are rife, and the United States faced two setbacks this month in its ambitious Moon programmes.

Two previous Japanese lunar missions -- one public and one private -- have also failed.

In 2022, the country unsuccessfully sent a lunar probe named Omotenashi as part of the United States's Artemis 1 mission.

In April, Japanese startup ispace tried in vain to become the first private company to land on the Moon, losing communication with its craft after what it described as a "hard landing".


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