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A Japanese spacecraft lands with a high degree of precision

A Japanese spacecraft lands with a high degree of precision

(Tokyo) Le petit engin spatial japonais SLIM a honoré son surnom de « Moon Sniper » : il s’est posé samedi dernier sur la Lune à 55 mètres de sa cible, soit un très haut degré de précision, a annoncé jeudi l’agence spatiale japonaise (Jaxa).

L’objectif de faire alunir ce module dans un rayon de 100 mètres par rapport à sa cible, comparé à plusieurs kilomètres en général pour les missions lunaires, a ainsi été atteint.

« SLIM a réussi à se poser en douceur et avec une haute précision […]JAXA said that the distance of its landing point from the target was confirmed to be 55 metres.

The module could have landed more precisely without a kinematics problem in the last tens of meters of its landing, which would have separated it slightly from its target, Shinichiro Sakai, head of SLIM (Intelligent Lunar Investigation Landing Vehicle) estimated on Thursday. .

On Thursday, JAXA also published the first pictures of this historic landing on the moon for Japan, which has become the fifth country in the world to successfully land on the Earth's natural satellite after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India.

One of these images, in color, shows the small SLIM module (2.4 meters long, 1.7 meters wide, and 2.7 meters high) clearly intact and placed at a slight tilt on the rocky lunar soil.

But the Japanese achievement came with a downside: SLIM was unable to use its solar panels immediately after landing on the moon's surface, forcing JAXA to cut off its power supply after less than three hours, to save its batteries in preparation for a potential restart.

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An attempt was soon made to relaunch SLIM

JAXA still hopes that it can restart SLIM when the angle of the sun changes in its landing area, allowing sunlight to reach its photovoltaic panels.

“Based on our current estimates, we are preparing to resume investigation operations by 1 p.many JAXA said Thursday.

Salim fell into a small hole less than 300 meters in diameter called Shiuli. Before it was turned off, the machine was able to land its two miniature vehicles naturally, supposedly to analyze rocks coming from the moon's internal structure (the lunar mantle), which is still not well understood.

One of these two rovers is a spherical probe called SORA-Q, which is barely larger than a tennis ball and is able to adjust its shape to move on the lunar surface. It is developed by Jaxa, in partnership with Japanese gaming giant Takara Tomy.

More than fifty years after the first human step on the moon – which Americans took in 1969 – the Earth's natural satellite is once again the subject of a global race.

The US Artemis program plans to return astronauts to the moon, a project that was recently postponed to September 2026, with a permanent base being built at the site in the long term. China has similar competing plans.

The first two attempts to land on the moon in Japan failed. In 2022, the JAXA probe, Omotenashi, aboard the US Artemis 1 mission, suffered a fatal battery failure shortly after being ejected into space.

Last year, a lander belonging to private Japanese startup ISpace crashed on the moon's surface, after missing the crucial step of a soft landing.

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Reaching the Moon remains a huge technological challenge, even for major space powers: the private American company Astrobotic, a NASA contractor, also failed at the beginning of January to land its first spacecraft on the Moon.