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Japan’s SLIM probe regains power more than a week after moon landing

Photo of SLIM
The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), is seen in this handout image taken by LEV-2 on the moon, released on January 25, 2024. (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), TAKARA TOMY, Sony Group, Doshisha University /via REUTERS/File Photo)
SLIM probe re-established communication with Japan Aerospace Exploration
By Kantaro Komiya | REUTERS

Japan’s SLIM spacecraft has regained power, its space agency said on Monday, more than a week after it achieved an unconventionally precise lunar landing but ran out of electricity because its solar panels were at the wrong angle.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) re-established communication with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) late on Sunday, a JAXA spokesperson said, nearly nine days after the probe’s touchdown made Japan the fifth country to put a spacecraft on the moon.

The probe was likely able to generate power thanks to a change in the sunlight’s direction, JAXA said.

SLIM resumed its operations to analyse the composition of olivine rocks on the lunar surface with its multi-band spectral camera, in search of clues about the origin of the moon, the agency added.

SLIM touched down on the moon within 55 m (180 ft) of its target in a crater near the lunar equator on Jan. 20. JAXA said it proved an advancement in what it called vision-based “pinpoint” landing – a technology that could be a powerful tool for future exploration of hilly moon poles seen as a possible source of fuel, water and oxygen.

SLIM lost the thrust of one of its two main engines shortly before the touchdown for unknown reasons and ended up drifting a few dozen metres away from the target. The lander safely stopped on a gentle slope but appeared toppled with an engine facing upward in a picture taken by a baseball-sized wheeled rover it deployed.

The probe’s solar panels faced westward due to the displacement and could not immediately generate power. JAXA manually unplugged SLIM’s dying battery 2 hours and 37 minutes after the touchdown as it completed the transmission of the lander’s data to the earth.

JAXA does not have a clear date when SLIM will end its operation on the moon, but the agency has previously said the lander was not designed to survive a lunar night. The next lunar night begins on Thursday.

Editor’s Note: Reporting by Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Jamie Freed

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