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Japan’s lunar lander shuts down for long lunar night

SLIM's last image
Click for original image.

After two days of post landing operations, engineers for the Japanese lunar lander SLIM have shut it down now as the sun has set at its landing site on the Moon and its solar panel can no longer charge its batteries.

The picture to the right, reduced to post here, was the last image sent back by SLIM before shut down. It looks to the southeast across the width of 885-foot-wide Shioli Crater, the opposite rim the bright ridge in the upper right about a thousand feet away.

The engineers shut the spacecraft down prior to sunset in order to increase the chances that it will survive that very long harsh lunar night and reactivate when the Sun rises in two weeks. They recognized that the odds of this occurring are slim (no pun intended), because the lander was not designed to withstand the night’s cold temperatures, and more important, the solar panel will not get recharged until late in the lunar day, an additional week-plus past sunrise. That long period of inactivity will likely kill it.

No matter. The spacecraft’s main goal was to prove the ability of its landing system to land softly within a small target zone. It did so, even if it had an engine issue that caused it to land upside down. This new engineering will make it possible to send unmanned and manned landers to places on other planets that previously were impossible.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News

One comment

  • Edward

    Their press release, before landing, gave three levels of success:

    Realize a soft landing on the Moon with a small and lightweight spacecraft. Accomplish the following two items.
    ◦ By conducting an actual lunar landing descent, verify the vision-based navigation,
    which is essential for high-precision landing
    ◦ Develop a lightweight spacecraft system and check its operation in orbit

    Achieve high-precision landing within 100m accuracy.
    The navigation system and the guidance rules operate normally, and the achievement of landing accuracy is confirmed by telemetry data after landing.

    All these criteria were fully achieved.

    Continue activities on the lunar surface for a certain period of time until sunset.
    Carry out missions that operate on the lunar surface to obtain knowledge for lunar and planetary surface exploration in the future.

    They had activities at sunset, but in my mind the earlier shutdown puts the first criterion in the partial Extra Success slot, but despite the reduced data collection, it is clear that the hardware and software succeeded in their duties.
    The two rovers, the hopper and the rolling ball, may have accomplished the last criterion. They seem to have functioned as expected.

    If SLIM wakes up in a month, that is just extra extra frosting on the lunar cake for JAXA.

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