TOKYO: Japan‘s innovative “Moon Sniper” spacecraft, part of the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission, is gearing up for a historic lunar touchdown at midnight on Saturday. This mission, showcasing cutting-edge landing technology, represents Japan’s hope to join an elite group of nations that have successfully completed soft landings on the Moon’s challenging terrain.
To date, only the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India have achieved this feat.Japan’s latest endeavor, however, comes with a unique twist: the lander is equipped with a high-precision, rolling probe developed in collaboration with a major toy company. Dubbed by Japan’s space agency JAXA as the “Moon Sniper,” the SLIM craft is scheduled to begin its descent at midnight Japan time (1500 GMT Friday), with the touchdown anticipated approximately 20 minutes later.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has confirmed that its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) will make the landing on the Moon on Friday (January 19).
Aiming to land within 100 meters of a targeted spot on the lunar surface, Japan’s SLIM mission seeks to achieve a level of precision far surpassing the usual landing zone parameters, which span several kilometers. This mission is crucial for Japan, especially following two unsuccessful lunar missions and recent rocket failures, including post-launch explosions.
The mission echoes India’s triumph in August, when it became the first nation to land an uncrewed craft near the Moon’s largely unexplored south pole. Emily Brunsden, a senior lecturer in astrophysics at the University of York, emphasized the significance of SLIM’s precision landing. “This technological leap allows for more specific scientific questions to be addressed,” she told AFP, while also cautioning about the high technological challenge and the risks involved.
SLIM’s primary objective is to land in a crater where the Moon’s mantle, typically found deep beneath its crust, is believed to be accessible on the surface. “Studying these exposed rocks is crucial in understanding the origins of the Moon and Earth,” explained Tomokatsu Morota, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo specializing in lunar and planetary exploration.
The mission’s success hinges on the craft’s ability to navigate and land on uneven, rocky terrain, using a camera for examination. Although JAXA has successfully landed on an asteroid, the Moon presents a greater challenge due to its stronger gravitational force.
Additionally, SLIM aims to uncover insights into the Moon’s potential water resources, which are vital for future lunar bases. The mission’s spherical metal probe, slightly larger than a tennis ball and equipped with a camera, was jointly developed by JAXA and Japanese toy giant Takara Tomy, adding a playful element to this ambitious project.
In a nod to public engagement, JAXA has released an online video game, “SLIM: The pinpoint moon landing game,” coinciding with the mission. Over 50 years since the first human Moon landing, numerous countries and private entities are renewing their lunar exploration efforts, facing challenges such as crash landings and communication failures.
This month saw setbacks for both a private US lunar lander, which had to abort its mission due to fuel leakage, and NASA’s postponed plans for crewed lunar missions under its Artemis program. Other countries, including Russia, China, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates, are also vying for lunar exploration success.
Japan’s previous attempts at lunar missions include the unsuccessful 2022 Omotenashi probe, part of the US Artemis 1 mission, and a failed private endeavor by startup ispace in April, which resulted in a “hard landing.”
As the world watches, Japan’s “Moon Sniper” stands ready to potentially revolutionize lunar exploration and pave the way for new scientific discoveries and opportunities on the Moon.