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“Japan’s ‘Moon Sniper’ Lands Successfully; Solar Cells Pose Challenge”

Moon Sniper

Japan on Saturday (January 20) became the fifth country to soft-land on the lunar surface, but its solar cells on the probe, dubbed the “Moon Sniper,” failed to generate electricity after Japanese space agency officials said its long-term fate is in question.

Japan is the fifth country to land on the lunar surface with its SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon), following the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India.

After initial uncertainty, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) later confirmed that the spacecraft landed on the moon at 12:20 pm Japan time (1520 GMT on Friday) and that “communications had been established.”

Hitoshi Kuninaka, an official at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, said the spacecraft can only provide power for “a few hours” if the solar cells don’t work.

But once the sun’s angle changes, the cells may become useful again, he said.

“It is unlikely that the solar cell failed. It may not have gone in the direction originally planned,” Kunzhong Jun told a news conference. “

“If the descent was unsuccessful, it would have crashed at a very high speed. If that were the case, all the functionality of the detector would be lost. But data is being sent to Earth,” he said.

He added that the current focus is on using the remaining power to send all the data acquired during the landing back to mission control.

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Kunichaka said he believed Japan’s space program (Moon Sniper) had achieved at least “a passing grade” of success.

That will include helping determine whether the probe, dubbed the “Moon Sniper” for its accuracy, achieved its goal of landing within 100 meters (yards) of its intended landing site.

Although there was no power generation problem, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said that the two probes were successfully separated. One of them has a transmitter, and the other will move around the lunar surface as designed to transmit images back to the earth.

Slightly larger than a tennis ball, the transforming mini-rover is inspired by the way sea turtles move on the beach and was co-developed by the company behind the Transformers toys.

Mantle Debris

The Japanese mission (“Moon Sniper) is one of a series of new projects launched in recent years due to renewed interest in the moon, Earth’s natural satellite.

Japan’s success (Moon Sniper) will restore its reputation in space after two failed moon missions and recent rocket failures, including an explosion after takeoff.

It also echoes a victory for India’s low-cost space program last August, when it became the first country to land an unmanned spacecraft near the moon’s largely unexplored south pole.

India's Chandrayan 3 successfully landed on south pole of moon on 23 Aug 2023

The purpose of SLIM is to try to reach a crater believed to be in contact with the moon’s mantle. The mantle is usually located in the deeper inner layer below the earth’s crust.

Tomokatsu Morota, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo who specializes in lunar and planetary exploration, told the media before landing: “The exposed rocks there are very important for exploring the origins of the moon and the earth. “Critical.”

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This includes unraveling the mystery of possible water resources on the moon, which will also be key to one day establishing a base on the moon as a possible stopover on the way to Mars.

“The possibility of commercialization of the moon depends on whether there is water at the poles,” Moroda said.

Renewed interest

Today, more than 50 years after humans first landed on the moon, many countries and private companies are trying to return to the moon.

But crash landings, communications failures, and other technical problems are common.

This month, the private U.S. company Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander leaked fuel after takeoff, causing its mission to fail.

The spacecraft lost contact in a remote area of ​​the South Pacific on Thursday and may have burned up in Earth’s atmosphere on its way back. The media reported that on Friday, CEO John Thornton said that the U.S. Space Command confirmed to the company that the spacecraft disintegrated at the last moment.

NASA has also postponed its Artemis mission to the moon.

Russia, China, and other countries such as South Korea and the United Arab Emirates are also trying.

Japan has failed two previous lunar missions—once a government mission and once a private mission.

In 2022, the United States launched a lunar probe named “Omotenashi” as part of the Artemis 1 mission, but it failed.

In April this year, Japanese startup iSpace tried to become the first private company to land on the moon, but it failed, and the spacecraft lost contact after what the company called a “hard landing.”

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