However, the craft’s solar generators failed to work, and it's now surviving on limited battery power. As of Sunday afternoon, it’s still unknown if the issue can be fixed.
Japan’s space agency, JAXA, said communication with Slim had been established, and it will now prioritise acquiring as much data as possible.
Nonetheless, the team believe its primary mission of achieving a soft, precision landing on an area the size of a football field was a success.
“The big objective of Slim is to prove the high-accuracy landing — to land where we want on the lunar surface, rather than landing where we can,” said Hiroshi Yamakawa, chief executive of JAXA, before the touchdown.
The Slim mission – or Smart Lander for Investigating Moon – aimed to land within just 100 metres of its target point, a sloped rim inside the 300-meter-wide Shioli crater. Previous landings have traditionally aimed for a landing zone of several square kilometres.
Project manager Shinichiro Sakai said, “No other nation has achieved this. Proving Japan has this technology would bring us a huge advantage in upcoming international missions.”
JAXA confirmed the success in a press conference two hours after it landed at 0:20 am (JST) while also announcing the craft’s solar cells were not generating electricity. The reasons are unknown, but experts have speculated the lander may have rolled.
The problems have dented hopes that Slim can send out a tennis-ball-sized metal probe, called Sora-Q, to take photos of the surface.
It follows two earlier attempts by Japan to land spacecraft in the past two years: the Omotenashi lander scrapped an attempted landing in 2022, while the Hakuto-R Mission 1 crashed last April.
Japan now joins the US, China, the Soviet Union and India in pulling off the feat.
The country's success comes after NASA announced earlier this month that its Artemis II mission to fly astronauts close to the moon has been delayed from later this year to September 2025.
The space agency blamed a number of technical issues, including problems with the Orion spacecraft’s life support systems and heat shield.
The revised timetable will also push back NASA’s Artemis III mission to return humans to the moon itself to September 2026. It’s not yet known whether the complications will affect Australia’s plans to send a rover to the moon to pave the way for a human base.
NASA administrator Bill Nelson said the safety of astronauts onboard was the “top priority”, and teams had learned a lot from the uncrewed Artemis I test mission that blasted off in late 2022.
Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
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