Eight days after the spacecraft turned over and lost power as it was touching down on January 19, Japanese flight controllers reestablished contact with the robotic SLIM lunar lander on Saturday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency confirmed on Sunday.
Shortly before landing, an engine failure made the Smart Landing for Investigating (the) Moon, or SLIM, spacecraft veer to one side rather than descend directly to the surface.
The probe’s solar cells, which are fixed to the top of the lander, were presumably pointing away from the sun as a result of the probe tipping over as it descended due to its lateral velocity. The spaceship was forced to rely on the diminishing power in its on-board battery in the absence of solar power.
Just prior to landing, a tiny rover captured an image of Japan’s SLIM lunar lander, which revealed the spacecraft to be upside-down with its solar cells oriented away from the sun. JAXA
The spacecraft had a limited reserve of battery life, so commands were issued to shut it down after downloading a few photos and gathering as much engineering data as possible.
When the moon swung around its orbit, officials at the time expressed hope that contact may be established when the angle between the sun and SLIM’s solar cells shifted.
Meanwhile, SLIM landing site was captured on camera last week by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from a distance of fifty miles, displaying the spacecraft as a small dot of reflected light on the lunar surface cratered by impact:
The crew said on X that it “succeeded in establishing communication with SLIM last night and have resumed operations!,” though no specifics were immediately available on Sunday. Using a multi-band camera, we initiated scientific studies right away and were able to successfully obtain first light.”
The aim was a nearby rock feature nicknamed “toy poodle.”
It was not immediately clear whether there was enough power to replenish SLIM’s battery, how long the spacecraft was expected to run on that power, or if it would have to shut down once more in order to wait for more power to be generated.
Japan became the fifth country to successfully land on the moon after the US, the former Soviet Union, China, and India, despite SLIM’s difficulties.
Over the past few years, Japan, Israel, and the United States have launched three commercially built robotic landers. However, all three have experienced faults that have prevented them from landing intact.
Next month will see the launch of a fourth commercial lander manufactured by Houston-based Intuitive Machines.