Japanese probe goes into hibernation for the third time on the Moon

Just like the Odysseus landing module, from the North American company Intuitive Machines, which was turned off on Thursday (29), with the arrival of lunar night, the SLIM probe, from the Japanese space agency (JAXA) is also hibernating – for third time.

The Sun stopped illuminating the solar panels of the “Intelligent Ship for Investigating the Moon” at around 7pm (Brasília time), as reported by JAXA on X (formerly Twitter).

“Although the probability of failure increases due to the repeated severe temperature cycle, SLIM will be operated again under the next Sol (end of March),” says the agency's publication.

Let's remember:

  • Japan landed on the Moon on January 19, 2024, making history as the fifth country in the world to achieve this feat (in addition to the Soviet Union, USA, China and India);
  • However, an engine failure caused the SLIM spacecraft to land upside down on the lunar surface, leaving its solar energy collection panels in the wrong position;
  • As a result, the probe went into hibernation mode, waiting for the natural movement of the Sun and Moon to provide the necessary change in the direction of light capable of allowing the equipment's battery to be recharged;
  • On January 28, nine days after landing, JAXA announced that communication with the SLIM spacecraft had been reestablished, and operations to search for clues about the Moon's origins could resume;
  • It was not known, however, how long the energy of the lander, called Toy Poodle by JAXA (a reference to its size), would last;
  • This is because, according to the agency, the little robot was not designed to survive a lunar night, which lasts approximately 14 Earth days and began days later, on February 1st;
  • Surprising everyone, the equipment woke up, sending new photos of the Moon;
  • However, now it has fallen dark there again, forcing the probe into a new deep sleep, from which it may or may not wake up.
Images of the lunar surface and the SLIM module taken and transmitted by LEV-2 (SORA-Q) (Credit: JAXA)
Image of the lunar surface and the SLIM module obtained by the LEV-2 (SORA-Q) instrument shows the probe landed upside down. Credit: JAXA

SLIM probe “sniper” technology improves future missions to the Moon

The SLIM mission not only represents Japan's entry into the 21st century space race (becoming the fifth country to land on the Moon, after the USA, Soviet Union, China and India), but also demonstrates revolutionary technological advances.

With the new precision landing technique pioneered by the Japanese probe, which is aptly nicknamed “sniper”, future descents could be made in smaller areas and uneven terrain.

Mosaic of photos taken by SLIM immediately after its landing and 10 days later, when its operations began (Credit: JAXA)
Mosaic of photos taken by SLIM immediately after its landing and 9 days later, when its operations began. Credit: JAXA

After the successful landing, two small rovers were deployed. The Lunar Excursion Vehicle 1 (LEV-1), equipped with a camera and scientific instruments, uses a jumping mechanism to navigate the Moon. In turn, the Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2), a sphere the size of palm, splits when touching the surface, allowing rotational movement.

Designed to land within just 100 meters of Shioli Crater, south of the lunar equator, the SLIM probe utilized vision-based navigation technology, which allowed it to land 55 meters from the target.

The innovative method compares images of the lunar surface with crater patterns on maps developed by JAXA, making it easier to identify areas of interest.

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