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HomeNewsJapan Lunar Module Lands on the Moon Despite Broken Solar Panel 

Japan Lunar Module Lands on the Moon Despite Broken Solar Panel 

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While it was the first time Japan would land a craft on the Moon, probes from four other countries already led the way. 

A space probe lying upside down on the Moon's surface
Source: Typical-Plantain256/Reddit

The Lunar race started with Russia, followed closely by the US, blazing the orbit leading to Earth’s only Moon. Russia and the US flew their first Lunar missions during the Cold War. The countries that came in third and fourth in the race to explore the Moon were China and India, making Japan the fifth.

Coming Behind Space Exploration Giants  

China touched down on the Moon in December 2013, and India’s Chandrayaan-3 arrived on August 23, 2023.

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Members of the JAXA team celebrating the completion of a mission
Source: JAXA/X

Last week, Japan became the fifth country to land a probe on the Moon. During a press briefing, the president of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Yamakawa Hiroshi, explained that the landing was successful. However, there were some slight glitches during the descent. 

Meet the Double-Pronged Probe

The JAXA mission to the Moon is called Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM). The launch rocket that delivered the SLIM payload is dual-purpose. 

A detailed infographic of the dual Lunar mission
Source: Karthekeyan N/LinkedIn

Besides the moon probe, the rocket released another module during the early stages of its spaceflight. That first module is called XRISM, an X-ray space telescope that is now orbiting and sending images from a low orbit around Earth. 

ALSO READ: NASA Announces New Moon Landing Attempt With IM-1 Mission

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Swinging On the Cliff’s Edge

However, unlike XRISM, which deployed successfully, experts at JAXA’s control base suspect SLIM to be experiencing power glitches. 

Yamakawa Hiroshi at JAXA's launch control room
Source: NASA/X

By remotely assessing how well SLIM’s battery is charging, the experts say the probe’s solar panels are not charging as expected. Likewise, Hiroshi and his team have stated that SLIM may become forever unresponsive if they cannot resolve the power issue soon. 

Will SLIM Live For Just a Few Hours? 

According to JAXA, the power cells on SLIM can only sustain the moon probe for a couple of hours before experiencing system shutdown. 

Publicity poster for SLIM on JAXA's official website
Source: JAXA

JAXA is still unable to ascertain the cause of the power glitch. It could be hardware damage in the solar panels, which Hiroshi says is unlikely. Another likely and more probable cause is a poor orientation of the solar panels toward the Sun. 

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Waiting for the Sun to Come Around  

JAXA is ruling out hardware damage as the cause of the glitch because right after SLIM’s touchdown on the Moon, the team remotely tested other related hardware on the probe and found them to be in pristine condition.         

Simulation of SLIM on the Moon
Source: Pulse/LinkedIn

 So, the JAXA team keeps their fingers crossed for the next encounter of SLIM’s landing site with daylight. With that, they can confirm what the real problem is. 

Bull’s Eye!  

One of the major objectives of the SLIM mission is to land the moon probe within a 330 feet radius of its target landing site. For the exploration of the probe to have scientific significance, JAXA has Shioli Crater as its target. 

Estimations of error margin during SLIM's landing
Source: JAXA

After the moon landing of SLIM on Monday morning, JAXA officials are speculating that the probe successfully hit the bull’s eye. However, the team may be unable to verify this claim until a month later. 

ALSO READ: Astronomer Discovers a Mysterious World That Might Have a Volcanic Moon in the Universe

Exploring Potentially Valuable Real Estate   

In space exploration circles, the focus of Lunar missions is moving away from merely landing a craft on the Moon to targeting specific sites. 

Various sites where previous Moon landings have occured
Source: Archive.org/Wikimedia Commons

According to the Planetary Society, the prospect of harnessing the resources on the Moon, spatial and material, is no longer a race for nations alone. Private entities are also joining the race to access Earth’s satellites. 

Inexpensive Space Exploration is Possible 

Another goal of the SLIM mission is to prove that it is possible to launch cheap and sustainable tech payloads into space. Nonetheless, despite the mission’s price being expensive, the labs or rovers can achieve great feats. 

Simulation of an Artemis Lunar mission
Source: NASA

For example, JAXA officials have revealed that SLIM weighs a paltry 440 pounds and costs around $120 million. 

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