Japanese lunar probe survives the second lunar night

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The SLIM lander landed in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong direction.

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The SLIM lander landed in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong direction.

Japan's lunar lander woke up after unexpectedly surviving a two-week-long frigid lunar night and sent new images back to Earth, the Japanese space agency said on Thursday.

The unmanned Intelligent Lunar Exploration Probe (SLIM) landed in January, making Japan only the fifth country to reach the lunar surface without crashing.

But the lightweight spacecraft landed at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing in the wrong direction.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced the probe's latest surprise in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“We received a response from SLIM last night and confirmed that SLIM successfully completed its second project overnight,” she said.

A black-and-white photo of the rocky surface of the crater accompanied the post on SLIM's official account.

“Since the sun was still high in the sky… and the equipment was still hot, we recorded images of the usual scene with the navigation camera, among other activities, for a short period of time,” she added.

Thursday's news came after the US unmanned lander called Odysseus, the first private spacecraft to successfully land on the moon, failed to wake up.

Its manufacturer, Houston-based Intuitive Machines, had hoped the lander would be revived like Japan's SLIM, but on Saturday it declared the rover's mission over.

The Intuitive Machines spacecraft also landed at the wrong angle, but was able to complete several tests and send back images before the final lunar night began.

“Moon Sniper”

JAXA dubbed the SLIM the “Moon Sniper” for its precise landing technology.

The goal of its mission was to examine a portion of the moon's mantle — the usually deep inner layer beneath its crust — which is thought to be accessible at the crater it landed in.

About three hours after its surprise landing on January 20, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency remotely turned off the lander to save power, after receiving technical data and image data from its descent.

As the angle of the sun changed, the probe came back to life in late January for two days, conducting scientific observations of the crater with a high-performance camera.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency says the spacecraft “was not designed for extreme lunar nights,” when temperatures drop below minus 130 degrees Celsius (-200 degrees Fahrenheit).

So scientists had reason to celebrate when SLIM succeeded in waking up in late February despite the odds.

The SLIM saga has been a boon for the space agency after a series of high-profile failures, including two previous Japanese moon missions — one public and one private.

The country unsuccessfully sent a lunar probe named Omotenashi as part of the US Artemis 1 mission in 2022.

Then in April 2023, Japanese startup ispace lost contact with its spacecraft after what it described as a “hard landing.”

Japan's fortunes in space this year were also mixed.

In February, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency celebrated the successful launch of its new flagship H3 rocket.

But two weeks ago, a different rocket made by Tokyo-based Space One exploded and caught fire in a stunning failure of the startup's attempt to put a satellite into orbit.

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