The ill-fated Japanese moon mission landed on its nose

  • Written by Jonathan Amos
  • Science Reporter

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The Slim lander may come back to life if its solar cells can be made to work

The Japanese lunar lander ended up on its nose when it made its historic lunar landing.

The first image of the ill-fated Slim spacecraft shows it rotated 90 degrees from the position it should have been in at rest.

This will go some way to explaining the difficulties encountered in generating the electricity necessary for operation.

The photo was taken by a small, baseball-sized robot called Sora-Q that was ejected from the Slim moments before landing last Saturday.

The Japanese space agency JAXA said in a statement: “A malfunction in the main engine affected the landing position of the spacecraft.”

It appears that one of the large thrusters on the Slim (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) stopped working during landing.

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An artist's impression of the direction the Slim spacecraft should have taken

To get the image back to Earth, Sora-Q first had to transmit it to another rover robot, Lunar Excursion Vehicle 1, or Lev-1. This jumping robot has radio equipment that can communicate with mission control independently of Slim.

The lander itself was shut down three hours after arrival because it was unable to power its solar cells. With the battery quickly running out of power, JAXA officials made the decision to put Slim into hibernation mode.

Their assumption – which the Sora-Q image seems to confirm – is that the main spacecraft is oriented in a way that prevents the solar cells from seeing the Sun.

The hope is that Slim will wake up when the lighting angles change at his landing site.

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This mosaic of the Slim's on-board camera contains 257 individual views

Before hibernating, the controllers were able to pull up a series of images of the surface taken by the onboard infrared camera.

These images show that the spacecraft was on a slope, surrounded by small rocks.

The intact landing site is located on the edge of the equatorial crater known as Shiuli.

The landing on Saturday at 00:20 JST (15:20 GMT), made JAXA only the fifth national space agency to achieve a soft landing on the Moon – after the United States, the former Soviet Union, China and India.

Statistically, it has proven very difficult to land softly on the moon's surface. Only about half of the attempts succeeded.

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Artwork: Hopper, Lev-1 (L) and Sora-Q (R) rolling and shape-shifting hopper

JAXA has placed its trust in new precision navigation technologies.

The lander's on-board computer used rapid image processing and crater mapping to avoid hazards reaching the landing point.

The engineers wanted to get within 100 meters (330 ft) of their target location. This has been achieved.

“Analysis of data obtained before the power was cut off confirmed that Slim reached the lunar surface approximately 55 meters east of the original target landing site,” JAXA said, adding that the on-board computer also made a decision in the final moments of the landing. Move the vehicle to one side to avoid obstacles.

This will please officials, as will the success of the two vehicles. Not only did Sora-Q move onto the moon's surface and take its photo, but Lev-1 also managed to jump. As with the Slim, the Lev-1 has also been turned off.

“The accomplishment of Lev-1's lunar hopping movements, inter-robot communication between Lev-1 and Sora-Q, and fully autonomous operations represents a groundbreaking achievement. It will be viewed as a valuable technology demonstration for future lunar explorations. The knowledge and experience gained will be applied in missions,” the agency said. Coming.

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The target landing site was on the slopes near Xiuli Crater, which is located just south of the Moon's equator.

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