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Japan’s lunar lander surprises team by waking up from cold lunar night

Japan’s lunar lander has reestablished contact with its mission controllers on Earth, confirming that it had successfully made it through a bitterly cold two-week lunar night.

SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) reached the moon last month — a first for Japan as it became only the fifth nation to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface. But it soon emerged that SLIM had toppled over as it touched down, leaving the team at JAXA — Japan’s NASA — wondering if the mission could continue.

Following a short outage soon after landing, JAXA made brief contact with SLIM, during which the lander beamed several images back to Earth. But as the sun’s rays moved away from the lander’s solar panels, it again lost power as it entered a lengthy lunar night.

The team wasn’t sure if SLIM would survive this period of intense cold, but on Monday, it was delighted to discover that the lander had made it.

“Last night, a command was sent to SLIM and a response received, confirming that the spacecraft has made it through the lunar night and maintained communication capabilities,” JAXA said in a post on social media.

It added: “Communication with SLIM was terminated after a short time, as it was still lunar midday and the temperature of the communication equipment was very high. Preparations are being made to resume operations when instrument temperatures have sufficiently cooled.”

It means that the mission may be able to fulfill more of its goals, including carrying out “high-resolution spectroscopic observations” once conditions improve.

But it’s already achieved the main purpose of its mission, which was to demonstrate new technology for precision landings. While the descent didn’t go strictly according to plan, SLIM touchdown accuracy could be considered as being within 32.8 feet (10 meters), demonstrating an accuracy significantly greater than that offered by the technology used by earlier lunar missions, which targeted landing zones across several miles.

SLIM’s soft lunar landing put Japan in an elite club that includes the U.S., Russia, China, and India. In recent days, the U.S. also set a new record when a mission by Texas-based Intuitive Machines became the first commercial endeavor to touch down on the lunar surface. However, like SLIM, the landing was not perfect, and the mission is expected to end earlier than planned.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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