To recover from past challenges and strengthen its space program, Japan launched the “Moon Sniper” mission last Thursday, shortly after India’s remarkable lunar achievement with the Chandrayaan-3 mission.
So far, only the United States, Russia, China, and India have had prosperous lunar landings. Because of this, Japan’s mission is imbued with great optimism and noteworthy technological progress.
Japan, for its part, has crafted its lunar lander with expertise to give it the best chance of a successful landing. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that like ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3, JAXA’s SLIM or Smart Lander for Investigating Moon mission is an engineering marvel
What makes landing on the Moon difficult
The Moon shows significantly lower gravitational force compared to Earth. Furthermore, its sparse and delicate atmosphere and the presence of lunar dust present formidable obstacles for any spacecraft, light or heavy, attempting to land.
Even the smallest particle of dust can substantially impact the regulation of temperature and the optical functionality of equipment situated on the lunar surface. It can cause significant damage to external instruments, such as sensors and cameras, when a spacecraft is descending.
Furthermore, because the Moon is far from the Earth, issues always crop up in deep-space communication. Even though they are tested heavily, the instruments on board always have a chance of failing for several reasons. Plus, radio signals also face an issue at that distance because of interference from the Sun’s rays and the atmosphere and gravity of the Moon.
What Japan has done to mitigate all of this is clever. They are sending a tiny probe to the Moon. The main objective of the SLIM mission is not to collect a lot of data but to test whether Japan can achieve a precision landing. Hence the mission’s nickname, Moon Sniper.
Precision Landing or Precise Landing is when a module lands on any celestial surface within 100 meters of a predesignated spot.
Most landing modules have a contingent landing spot that is usually hundreds of kilometers away when we consider the Moon. Chandrayaan-3, for example, had a backup landing spot about 400-450 km away from its final Shiv Shakt Point.
Precision landings are essential for several reasons. Our understanding of celestial bodies targeted for exploration has grown substantially in recent years. The objectives of future missions will become increasingly specific. As a result, it is no longer sufficient to land on celestial bodies merely but to land at exact spots.
Furthermore, future solar system scientific exploration will need advanced observation equipment. It becomes imperative to reduce the overall weight of the systems and allocate resources efficiently to accommodate newer and more sophisticated observation tools.
How JAXA’s SLIM Module is an engineering marvel
The main objective of the SLIM mission is not to collect too much data but to test if they can land a module within 100 meters of a particular spot.
The landing module is slightly more significant than the Pragyan Rover and considerably smaller than the Vikram Lander module. The SLIM lander module has a mass of less than 120 kg. Compared to that, the Vikram lander, without the Pragyan Rover, had a group of 1750 kg.
Most spacecraft land where they’re told to and have a minimal ability to survey the terrain beneath them and select a safe spot to touch down. Japan’s SLIM module, on the other hand, is equipped with state-of-the-art high-resolution cameras. Its onboard computers are already preloaded with detailed models of the Moon’s surface, specifically the near side of the Moon close to Mare Nectaris. This lunar basin is one of the visible dark spots on the Moon.
These sophisticated computers are programmed with algorithms that enable them to meticulously analyze data received from the cameras and autonomously determine the most suitable landing site for the spacecraft. Think of it as an innovative, driverless car trying to find a parking spot.
SLIM also includes a pair of rovers that will be released from the lander. The first weighs a mere 250 grams and can transform from a spherical shape into a cylinder. This rolling rover, the Palm-Sized Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 or LEV-2, will be deployed as SLIM goes into free fall on its descent to the lunar surface. Throughout its brief operational life of 1 day, it will capture images of the Moon, SLIM, and try to traverse the lunar terrain.
These images will then be transmitted to the Lunar Excursion Vehicle 1 (LEV-1), which can make short hops across the lunar surface. LEV-1 can establish direct communication with Earth, facilitating the relay of valuable data from these lunar probes.