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28th December 2023 (9 Topics)

Japan' Slim lander shows Moon's colossal craters

Context

This significant milestone sets the stage for Japan's first-ever moon landing in 2024.

In a momentous achievement for Japan's space exploration endeavors, the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) successfully entered lunar orbit on December 25, 2023. This milestone marks a historic step for Japan, setting the stage for its inaugural moon landing attempt scheduled for January 19, 2024.

The SLIM Mission: Precision Lunar Landings

  • Development by JAXA: Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), SLIM represents an experimental mission with the primary goal of demonstrating precise and accurate lunar landings. The spacecraft, often referred to as the "moon sniper," comes with a price tag of an estimated 18 billion yen ($120 million).
  • Mission Objectives: SLIM aims to touch down with unparalleled precision, within a mere 100 meters of its target point inside Shioli, a small crater on the moon's near side.
  • Innovative Path to the Moon: SLIM's journey to the moon was unconventional, employing a fuel-efficient trajectory. After its launch on September 6, 2023, the spacecraft utilized a lunar flyby and a deep space loop before returning to the moon's vicinity. This innovative path not only conserved fuel but also contributed to reducing overall mission costs.

Preparations for Lunar Landing:

  • Optical Navigation System: Upon entering its elliptical lunar orbit, SLIM initiated preparations for its upcoming landing attempt. The spacecraft's optical navigation system, complemented by maps from Japan's Kaguya orbiter, is designed to guide SLIM with unprecedented accuracy to the designated landing site.
  • Unique Landing Legs: SLIM's design includes crushable, 3D-printed aluminium lattice landing legs. These legs serve a crucial role in absorbing the impact of touchdown and ensuring proper orientation on the crater slope, enhancing the overall success of the mission.
  • Scientific Payloads:
    • Multi-Band Camera: Beyond its precision landing objectives, SLIM carries scientific payloads that contribute to lunar exploration.
      • The Multi-Band Camera on board is tasked with analysing the composition of lunar minerals, providing valuable insights into the moon's geological makeup.
    • Lunar Rovers: SLIM also hosts two small rovers designed to traverse the lunar surface and conduct experiments.
      • These rovers not only expand our understanding of lunar terrain but also showcase Japan's commitment to technological innovation in space exploration.

Implications for Future Missions:

  • Revolutionizing Lunar and Planetary Missions: The success of SLIM's technology could revolutionize future lunar and planetary missions. The capability for targeted landings at scientifically significant sites opens new possibilities for exploration and scientific discovery.
  • Cost-Effective Space Exploration: SLIM's innovative trajectory and precise landing technology contribute to the broader goal of making space exploration more cost-effective. This achievement positions Japan as a key player in the endeavour to explore the moon and beyond efficiently.

Way Forward:

  • Japan's SLIM mission represents a significant leap forward in space exploration, showcasing not only technological prowess but also a commitment to precision and innovation.
  • As SLIM prepares for its historic moon landing attempt, the world watches with anticipation, recognizing the potential impact on the future of lunar and planetary exploration.
  • The success of SLIM may well be a catalyst for more ambitious and cost-effective missions, heralding a new era in space exploration.
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