Japanese flight controllers were able to regain communication with the SLIM lunar lander, marking a significant achievement following its tipped-over position and power loss during the landing process.
The Incident and Recovery
The SLIM lunar lander encountered a critical situation as it attempted to touch down on the lunar surface, facing an engine malfunction that caused it to drift sideways instead of descending directly. Consequently, the lander tilted over during touchdown, leaving its solar cells directed away from the sun. This positioning deprived the spacecraft of solar power, forcing it to rely on the dwindling on-board battery.
After diligently capturing photographs and engineering data, the spacecraft was commanded to shut down with its remaining battery power. There was anticipation that contact could potentially be restored as the angle between the sun and the lander’s solar cells changed during the moon’s orbit.
During this period, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of the SLIM landing site from an altitude of 50 miles, providing a glimpse of the spacecraft on the moon’s surface. The successful re-establishment of communication was reported, with the resumption of scientific observations using the multi-band camera, as the team obtained the first light.
While details regarding the power availability for battery recharging and the spacecraft’s operational duration remained undisclosed, the achievement stands as Japan’s remarkable feat as the fifth nation to accomplish a lunar landing, joining the ranks of the United States, the former Soviet Union, China, and India.
Notably, this success is set against a backdrop of challenges faced by other commercially developed robotic landers from Japan, Israel, and the United States, which encountered malfunctions impeding their intended landings. The upcoming launch of a commercial lander by Intuitive Machines adds anticipation for future space exploration endeavors.
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