Japan’s Lunar Gamble: Bracing for the 20 Minutes of Heart-Stopping Moon Landing
Japan’s space agency, JAXA, is set to achieve a groundbreaking lunar landing with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission, emphasizing accuracy in a delicate descent into the Shioli Crater.
Scheduled for Friday, January 19, at 10:20 am ET, SLIM’s soft landing seeks to position itself within an impressive 328 feet (100 meters) of its intended target.
The mission incorporates cutting-edge technology, featuring an advanced guidance and navigation system equipped with preloaded maps, radar, and image processing algorithms. This ensures precise trajectory accuracy during the landing procedure.
SLIM is also equipped with a high-performance propulsion system, enabling meticulous adjustments to approach vectors, fine-tuning its direction and speed as it nears the lunar surface.
The SLIM project, initiated in 2013, is reaching a critical phase with a landing procedure lasting no longer than 20 minutes. During this period, mission controllers on Earth will be in a state of powerlessness, relying on SLIM’s autonomous functions to execute the complex journey successfully.
The landing procedure is set to commence at approximately 10 a.m. ET, with SLIM descending from an altitude of 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) at a remarkable speed of 3,800 miles per hour (1,700 meters per second). The target ellipse for the landing measures 328 feet by 328 feet (100 meters by 100 meters).
Japan’s Primary Mission Objective
The landing location assigned to SLIM, Shioli Crater, is located in the lower Mare Nectaris, an area of low height with a gradient of 15 degrees or less. SLIM will land in two stages, using its primary landing gear to make a soft touchdown before turning forward for additional stabilization.
The primary goal of the mission is to test new precision landing technology, potentially leading to pinpoint landings not only on the Moon but also on other celestial bodies like Mars’ moons.
SLIM carries scientific instruments, including a thermometer, radiation detector, and devices for measuring slopes and elevation.
Additionally, it will attempt to deploy a pair of small rovers, one of which was co-designed by Tomy, the Japanese firm famous for early Transformers toys.
Launched on September 6, 2023, atop Mitsubishi’s H-IIA rocket, SLIM shares its ride with Japan’s XRISM X-ray telescope, which is now operational. As the world watches, Japan’s ambitious lunar mission holds the promise of advancing precision landing technology for future space exploration.