Japan just got an epic new photo to put in its space exploration scrapbook.
The country's SLIM spacecraft touched down on the moon's surface on January 19, making Japan the fifth country ever to make a soft landing on the moon's surface. A new photo provides visual evidence of this success, showing Slim resting on the gray dirt.
The image, released by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Wednesday evening (January 24), was taken by a ball-shaped robot called LEV-2 (“Lunar Exploration Vehicle-2”) also known as SORA-Q. One of two small rovers that flew to the Moon aboard SLIM.
“With this, SORA-Q becomes the first Japanese robot to land on the moon and take photos,” said Kentaro Toyama, chairman and representative director of Japanese toy company Takara Tomy, which developed LEV-2 with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Sony and Doshisha University. He said in a statement (In Japanese; translation provided by Google).
“The credit for this success goes to everyone involved and everyone who supported us as we pursued our dreams together,” Toyama added. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Related: Missions to the Moon: Past, Present and Future
SLIM (short for “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon”) is a demonstration spacecraft, designed to demonstrate the technology needed to perform an ultra-precise planetary landing. It was launched last September, accompanied by an X-ray space telescope called XRISM, and settled in low Earth orbit.
SLIM reached lunar orbit on Christmas Day, then made its historic landing to the lunar surface on January 19. However, things did not go quite as planned that day; SLIM operators were unable to confirm its condition immediately after landing, and eventually determined that its solar panels were not generating electricity.
A newly released image shows why: SLIM rested on his head, which was not in the desired direction. So the probe was unable to harvest sunlight as expected.
But the fact that the image reached Mission Control shows that the two bantam rovers – LEV-2 and LEV-1 – deployed from SLIM during landing as planned and were successfully operated on the lunar surface.
“This image was transmitted to Earth via LEV-1, and it was confirmed that the communication function between LEV-1 and LEV-2 was working normally,” JAXA officials wrote in the same statement.
“In addition, since LEV-2 was deformed from its spherical state to its stored state, we were also able to confirm that it was successfully deployed and piloted on the lunar surface after launch from SLIM,” they added. (LEV-2, which is about the size of a tennis ball, is designed to morph from being spherical in half, then crawl onto the moon's surface.)
On Monday (January 21), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said SLIM is still alive, albeit silent, on the moon's surface, and its handlers are preparing for a possible recovery of the lander.
The agency provided another update on Wednesday night US West Coast time (Thursday afternoon, January 25, Japan time) during a press conference held in Japanese. The mission team still holds out some hope of resurrecting SLIM, at least until February 1, when the sun sets at the lander's landing site. According to Dawong Junga lunar mission engineer at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute who live-tweeted the press conference held Wednesday night.
No matter what happens from now on, Japan now has good intentions about the moon's surface, thanks to SLIM and his two little travel companions.
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