Tomorrow is a big day for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The space agency will attempt to land its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, on the Moon. If the mission is successful on a soft touch down, Japan will become the fifth nation to land on the Moon and the third this century after China and India.
SLIM is expected to begin its descent at 10 am ET Friday (midnight of Saturday in Japan) and land 20 minutes later. This important mission to the lunar surface for JAXA is designed to demonstrate precise lunar landing, a level of accuracy that has not been demonstrated by any mission. It is expected to get down to the Moon within 100 meters (330 feet) of a specific target area.
The landing site for Apollo 11’s Eagle landing module was an ellipse 20 by 5 kilometers (12 by 3.1 miles) and required last-minute manual adjustments by the astronauts. SLIM is using software first designed for facial recognition to know precisely where it is. Thanks to data collected by JAXA’s SELENE mission (also known as Kaguya), SLIM should know where it is and where it should go for its correct landing. The nickname of Moon Sniper is accurate.
"The big objective of SLIM is to prove the high-accuracy landing... to achieve 'landing where we want' on the lunar surface, rather than 'landing where we can'," JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference back in September when the mission launched.
All going well, SLIM will release two rovers. The first one will move using a hopping mechanism and it is equipped with cameras and a few science payloads. The second one is a rover of just 250 grams (9 ounces) and it is capable of changing shapes to best adapt to lunar conditions.
Reaching and landing on the Moon is not an easy task, even before we get to the challenge of doing so with the high precision expected of SLIM. In November 2022, JAXA’s OMOTENASHI lander was lost before it reached the Moon. In April 2023, a Japanese startup attempted to become the first private company to land on the Moon, but it also lost communication with its spacecraft. In August, the promised Russian return to the Moon ended with its spacecraft crashing on the surface, creating a brand new crater that was imaged by NASA.
Private US mission Peregrine-One also failed to reach the Moon and it burned, falling back into Earth’s atmosphere on Thursday, January 18.
A live stream of SLIM's landing process can be followed above.