A Japanese spacecraft has just taken a big step towards achieving the country's first moon landing.
Japan's robotic lunar lander SLIM reached lunar orbit on Christmas Day (December 25) as planned, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced. The spacecraft entered lunar orbit at 2:51 a.m. EDT (4:51 p.m. JST, 0751 GMT).
“The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is pleased to announce that the Lunar Exploration Intelligent Lander (SLIM) was successfully inserted into lunar orbit at 16:51 (Japanese Standard Time, JST) on December 25, 2023,” JAXA officials said ( JAXA) Written in the update. The spacecraft orbits in an elliptical orbit that takes 6.4 hours to orbit the moon, reaching 373 miles (600 kilometers) from the moon's surface at its closest point and 2,485 miles (4,000 kilometers) at its farthest point.
This achievement keeps SLIM on target to attempt a lunar landing on January 19. Success in this endeavor will be historic; So far, only four countries – the Soviet Union, the United States, China and India – have managed to make soft landings on the moon.
Related: Missions to the Moon: Past, Present and Future
The 8.8-foot (2.7-meter) SLIM was launched on September 6 with the powerful X-ray space telescope XRISM.
Both Japanese spacecraft have been deployed to Earth orbit, and XRISM remains there today. But SLIM left our planet's gravity on September 30, beginning a long, indirect, energy-efficient path to the Moon.
This journey ended today, when SLIM inserted itself into lunar orbit. The lander will now begin preparing for its landing attempt, during which it will try to live up to its “Moon Sniper” nickname: SLIM aims to hit a landing zone target with an accuracy of 330 feet (100 meters) or less. This paves the way for more ambitious exploration efforts in the future.
SLIM “is a mission to research the precision landing technology needed for future lunar probes and verify this on the lunar surface using a small-sized probe,” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency officials wrote in a statement. Task description.
They added: “By creating the SLIM lander, humans will make a paradigm shift towards being able to land where we want, not just where it is easy to land, as was the case before.” “By achieving this, it will be possible to land on planets that are even more resource-scarce than the Moon.”
If all goes according to plan, SLIM will also deploy two small probes on the lunar surface after landing. This sub-vehicle will take images, help mission team members monitor SLIM's status, and provide an “autonomous communication system for direct communication with Earth,” JAXA officials wrote in the SLIM mission message. Press kit.
SLIM is not the first Japanese spacecraft to reach lunar orbit; The Hyten probe did so in 1990, followed by the SELENE (Selenology and Engineering Explorer) probe, also known as Kaguya, in 2007.
The Hakuto-R lander, built by Tokyo-based ispace, reached lunar orbit last March. Hakuto-R attempted to land on the Moon a month later but crashed after its sensors were jammed by the edge of a lunar crater.
“Web maven. Infuriatingly humble beer geek. Bacon fanatic. Typical creator. Music expert.”