Japan’s ‘Moon Sniper’ lands on moon


Japan became only the fifth country to make a soft moon landing on Saturday, but warns that its “Moon Sniper” is rapidly losing power due to a problem with the solar battery.

After a nerve-wracking 20-minute descent, the space agency Jaxa said its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, aka Slim, had landed and communications had begun.

But without the proper functioning of the solar cells, Jaxa official Hitoshi Kuninaka warned the craft – dubbed the Moon Sniper because of the precision technology on board – would only have power for a few hours.

Slim is one of several new lunar missions launched by governments and private companies worldwide – 50 years after the first man landed on the moon.

However, catastrophic landings and communication breakdowns are common and only four other countries have so far made it to the moon before Japan: the USA, the Soviet Union, China and more recently India.

The control room prioritizes which data to collect, hoping that the batteries might start working again once the angle of the sun changes.

“It is possible that it did not land in the direction that was originally planned,” Kuninaka said in the early hours of the morning.

“If the descent had been unsuccessful, it would have crashed at a very high speed. If this were the case, all functions on the rig would have been lost.

“But data is still sent back to Earth.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the landing “welcome news”, but says he realizes a more “detailed analysis” of the solar cells still needs to be done.

Nasa head Bill Nelson in a tweet conveyed his congratulations to Japan as a “historically fifth country to successfully land on the moon”.

“Our partnership and continued collaboration in space is precious,” he said.

‘Great success’

Jaxa hopes that the analysis of the data collected during the landing will help determine whether the craft touched down within 100 meters of its intended landing site.

Slim aimed for a crater where the moon’s mantle, the usually deep inner layer beneath the crust, is thought to have been exposed to the surface.

Two probes were successfully detached, Jaxa said – one with a transmitter and the other designed to move on the lunar surface and send images back to Earth.

The mini rig, just bigger than a tennis ball, was designed in collaboration with the company responsible for the Transformer toys.

The accuracy of the landing has yet to be determined, but Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysics astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has already labeled it a success.

In addition, several things could have led to the problem with the solar panel.

“A wire could have come loose, something could have been connected incorrectly, or the lander is upside down and can’t see the sun for some reason,” he ventured a guess.

The scientist says “hopefully” Jaxa could receive images of the landing, but an experiment to analyze the composition of lunar rocks is probably gone.

  • This post has been modified after it was originally published. – Ed.