March 4, 2024


Key events

Summary

Japan’s space agency says it has made a “successful” landing on the moon, although its probe was not generating solar power and its batteries would drain in a matter of hours.

  • The director of the Japanese space agency, Jaxa, said the landing itself was deemed successful “as the spacecraft sent telemetry data, meaning most equipment on board was operating”.

  • Data sent from the spacecraft back to earth showed the spacecraft made a normal descent and showed it was on the moon’s surface and communicating properly.

  • The spacecraft was designed to land on a slope and then tip over slightly onto its main legs. However, space enthusiasts have suggested the probe might have toppled over too far.

  • Two rovers on board were successfully deployed just before landing and will conduct experiments on the moon, Jaxa officials said.

  • The Slim probe – dubbed the “moon sniper” for its accuracy – sought to show how to make a precise landing. Officials say confirmation of a precise landing could take up to a month.

  • Only four nations – the former Soviet Union, the United States, China and India – have previously achieved a soft landing on the moon’s surface.

A reporter is asking why the space agency officials faces are not looking “happier” at the press conference.

An agency official says the situation is “tough” as they are dealing with the solar panel issue and are thinking of the steps ahead.

A reporter asks about the angle of Slim, and whether it was “upside down”.

Kuninaka, director general of the Japanese space agency, says they cannot answer that as they do not have the data.

Kuninaka, the head of Jaxa’s space lab, says his team is using the limited battery life to prioritise “the transfer of [Slim’s] data” back to earth.

Sunlight might hit the solar cells but it could take over a month

Kuninaka, director general of the Japanese space agency, says that as the moon’s position changes, sunlight could hit the solar cells, which could recharge its battery. However, he adds, this could take over a month.

The spacecraft took photos of the moon’s surface before landing, officials says.

Note: Officials are making clear that they are yet to confirm if the probe – dubbed the “moon sniper” for its accuracy – made a precision descent.

This could take up to a month, a timeframe that was not unexpected.

A key aim of this mission was to land a lightweight craft down less than 100 metres from a predetermined target on the moon’s surface – a dramatic improvement on previous missions, in which the landing zones measured several kilometres.

Kuninaka, director general of the Japanese space agency, says the solar panel issue may have to do with the “attitude” of the probe.

Attitude refers to the position of the spacecraft, suggesting it may be sitting at an unintended angle.

Japan space agency says it considers spacecraft landing to be a ‘success’

A reporter asks if the soft landing was “successful” or a “failure”.

Hitoshi Kuninaka, a Jaxa official, replies: “We believe the soft landing itself was successful as the spacecraft sent telemetry data, meaning most equipment on board was operating.”

Updated at 

Both moon rovers were successfully deployed before landing, Japanese space agency

Both Lev-1 and Lev-2, palm-sized robots, were successfully deployed before the spacecraft landed on the moon, a space official says.

Lev-1 is designed to hop around and take measurements with an onboard thermometer, radiation monitor and slope sensor.

Lev-2, a ball-shaped mini-rover designed with Takara Tomy, the toy firm behind Transformers, is intended to pop open, revealing two cameras.

Japanese probe landed on moon but not generating solar power, space agency says

The Slim spacecraft landed on the moon and is communicating with earth but is not generating electricity via its solar panels, a Japanese space agency official says.

Updated at 

The press conference has started.

Updated at 

The livestream screen says a press conference will be held imminently.

This is very much the current mood of everyone waiting for information on the Slim moon lander:

Staff of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) watch a live streaming of the pinpoint moon landing operation by the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (Slim) spacecraft.
Staff of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) watch a live streaming of the pinpoint moon landing operation by the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (Slim) spacecraft. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

Scottish science communicator and astrophysicist Scott Manley thinks it landed and rolled:

So my take is that it landed and rolled. Why?
* Landing too fast
* Landing and not shutting down engines immediately
* landing with too much lateral velocity.
Angular momentum makes things roll futher in low lunar gravity.

If the orientation can be trusted then SLIM is facing… pic.twitter.com/4FwMHKQban

— Scott Manley (@DJSnM) January 19, 2024

Some chatter online (all unconfirmed) that the lander may have made a successful landing, but then tipped over.

Remember, this landing was extraordinary as it took place on a slope.

As part of the unique landing technique, the Slim was supposed to tip over slightly but may have toppled too far.

The Slim lander is still communicating with Nasa satellite dishes, according to Paul Byrne, an Associate Professor of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Science at Washington University in St. Louis.

How hard is it to make a ‘soft landing’ on the moon?

Space and lunar exploration is notoriously difficult.

Only four nations – the former Soviet Union, the United States, China and India – have achieved a soft landing on the moon’s surface.

This month, the first moon lander to launch from the US in half a century suffered a fuel leak and failed to reach the moon. Peregrine 1 had aimed to become the first commercial space probe to make a soft landing on the moon – a feat that is yet to be achieved.

There have been two failed Japanese missions, one public and one private.

India in August landed a craft near the Moon’s south pole, a historic triumph for its low-cost space programme. Its success came a few days after a Russian probe crashed in the same region, and four years after a previous Indian attempt failed at the last moment.

Nasa has also delayed future moon missions. It plans to put humans back on the lunar surface this decade, and build a space station that orbits the moon.





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