Moon Sniper: Japan aims anew at a lunar landing
For decades, the US and Soviet Russia were the only countries that had landed on the moon. Then came China and India. Now, Japan is trying for the second time in 2023
A mere four months after Japan's first attempt to land on the moon ended in failure in April — it's tough to land on the moon — the country's hopes were set on a second attempt.
'Moon Sniper' is the nickname for a small and light spacecraft that was designed as a 'pinpoint' lander. It is 'formally' called SLIM—which stands for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon. And scientists call it the sniper because of its precision.
What is pinpoint landing?
Japanese officials say the idea is to go from an era of "landing where we can" to "landing where we want" on a celestial body with gravity, such as the moon. The moon's gravity is about one-sixth of Earth's gravity — its pull is weaker — which is why you can jump about six times as high on the moon as you can on Earth. And that has an impact on how spacecraft land on the moon's surface.
But it's about more than that.
Since the beginning of human moon exploration in the 1960s and since the advent of advanced satellites and telescopes and other camera technology, researchers have gathered masses of high-definition images and other data, such as information about the moon's atmosphere. So we know more about the moon's constitution, including where we are likely to find water.
And scientists want to land exactly where there is water, such as on the south pole — like Chandrayaan-3's lander Vikram did on 23 August. Or, if they are interested in a specific rock on the moon, it's important that a spacecraft can land very close by on a flat piece of land.
How does pinpoint landing compare with conventional landing?
The landing precision of conventional landers can be anywhere between "several and a dozen" kilometres. That's according to the Japanese space agency JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and its Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. Pinpoint landers aim to bring that range down to about 100 m (330 feet).
How big is Japan's SLIM moon lander?
SLIM has a dry weight of 200 kg and a boxlike shape, with dimensions of 2.4 m by 1.7 m by 2.7 m. The objective is to test lightweight vehicles, to facilitate more frequent missions to various planets and their moons.
Does SLIM have a moon rover and cameras?
Yes. It has radar and a laser range finder to measure the altitude above the lunar surface before landing, and a navigation camera. SLIM uses this "vision-based navigation" technology to measure and correct its position for pinpoint landing.
On the moon's surface, a multiband spectral camera will investigate the composition of rocks. To further investigate the land, a probe called a Lunar Exploration Vehicle will separate, bringing with it a Transformable Lunar Robot, nicknamed SORA-Q, which is the shape of a large egg and fits in the palm of a hand.
When will SLIM arrive on the moon?
SLIM's scheduled launch is Monday, 28 August, at 9:26:22 a.m. Japan time (05:56 a.m. IST). It aims to arrive into lunar orbit about 3-4 months after its launch.
It will remain in lunar orbit for a month, and then begin its descent to land on the lunar surface about six months after launch.