Japan’s high-precision “Moon Sniper” lander has touched down on the lunar surface in a first for the country, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has said.
But the agency said it was still “checking its status” due to an issue with the craft’s power supply. Officials also said they needed more time to analyze whether the unmanned spacecraft made a pinpoint landing—one of the priorities of the mission.
The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) probe began its “power descent sequence” towards the lunar surface early Saturday local time (15:00 GMT Friday), according to JAXA.
Hitoshi Kuninaka, head of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, said they believe that rovers were launched and data was being transmitted back to Earth.
But he said SLIM’s solar battery was not generating power and the battery life of the spacecraft would only last a few more hours. The priority now was for the craft to gather as much moon data as possible on the remaining battery.
Japan may yet manage to salvage its Moon lander if sunlight hits it in the right place.
The Slim spacecraft was turned off just three hours after its historic lunar touchdown on Saturday to save power. Engineers had realized its solar cells were pointing west, away from the Sun, and could not generate electricity.
But the mission team is now hopeful the situation could improve as lighting conditions shift.
By accomplishing the landing, Japan became the world’s fifth country to put a spacecraft on the moon, after the United States, Russia, China and India.
Japan calls its technology unprecedented and crucial for advancing lunar exploration, particularly in the quest for lunar water and the potential for human habitation.
Speaking in advance of the touchdown, Shinichiro Sakai, JAXA’s SLIM project manager, said, “Proving Japan has this technology would bring us a huge advantage in upcoming international missions like Artemis,” referring to US space agency NASA’s crewed moon mission. “No other nation has achieved this.”