Japan is now the sixth country in history to have successfully landed on the moon with its long-planned Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon. However, things are not looking good for SLIM, which might not have much longer to live because of issues with its solar cells.
The mission’s and JAXA’s directors stated in a press conference held after the moon landing that “the soft landing itself was successful; SLIM has been communicating and receiving commands.” Nevertheless, it appears that the solar cell isn’t producing power right now.
The crew hasn’t been able to pinpoint the problem yet because solar cells and the rest of the electrical components in a space can be picky. Let’s face it, the whole thing is often quite finicky. They are certain that the problem is exclusive to the solar cells themselves, though, because the other sensors are functioning properly and displaying normal numbers.
Running on batteries is obviously not a long-term solution, and the primary lander will only have a few hours of life left (and might even be nearing the end of that at this point) if they cannot get the cells online.
The nation and agency deserve praise for their achievement; landing on the moon is a difficult task, and several governments and private businesses have attempted the feat in recent years without success. A tiny issue like a clogged valve, which happened on Astrobotic’s recent mission, can cause a lunar bid to fail.
Telemetry has led to some conjecture that the lander might have tipped or been in some other less-than-ideal physical state, but JAXA has not yet received any proof of this. The main purpose of the first news conference was to announce the successful soft landing and operation of a lunar lander.
The two Lunar Excursion Vehicles that SLIM was carrying appear to have deployed successfully, as the team did observe. These two sub-craft, which will function somewhat independently from the main vehicle, separated from it while it was hovering a few meters above the surface.
The so-called LEV-1 and LEV-2 should be able to take pictures of the landing pad and SLIM itself, but they stated that “unfortunately, it is not something we are able to show you immediately.” They ought to transmit the information along soon, assuming the sub-vehicles are operating properly.