Breaking: SLIM Spacecraft Survives Its Second Lunar Night

Japan’s first-ever spacecraft to successfully land on the lunar surface has survived its second long cold lunar night. The SLIM spacecraft whose name is short for “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon,” has performed beyond the expectations of its makers. On March 27, the mission officials announced the good news via X in a post that also showed the latest image of the lunar surface as captured by the lander’s navigation camera.

Japan launched the spacecraft in September 2023 and it successfully landed on the lunar surface on January 19 this year. That successful soft landing made Japan the fifth nation to safely land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon. Other four nations that have attained the milestone in the past include the Soviet Union, the United States of America, China, and India.

While making its landing on January 19, the spacecraft landed on its nose. Its landing position makes it challenging for the space probe to receive enough amount solar energy from sunlight. This difficulty made the solar probe stop transmitting to Earth and go into a deep sleep.

However, on January 28, the space probe woke up again and resumed to obtain data for Japan once again. After operating for a few days, the mission team put the SLIM spacecraft into hibernation in preparation for the first two-week-long lunar night. During each lunar night, the surface temperatures of the moon usually drop to minus 208 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 130 degrees Celsius).

How SLIM Spacecraft Survived Second Lunar Night

Before the first lunar night, the SLIM spacecraft had already accomplished its primary mission goals which were to make a safe touchdown on the moon, deploy two tiny rovers, and also to conduct other scientific tasks. After these tasks, the lander was not expected to wake up again and continued another operation on the moon.

However, the probe surprised the mission team by waking up late last month. After the first lunar night, the SLIM spacecraft went ahead to survive the second lunar night. However, the harsh nature of the moon is beginning to reduce the lifespan of the lander.

“According to the acquired data, some temperature sensors and unused battery cells are starting to malfunction, but the majority of functions that survived the first lunar night were maintained even after the second lunar night!” mission team members said in another X post on Wednesday night.

After the successful touchdown of the SLIM spacecraft in January 2024, Astrobotics, a US private company attempted to land its Peregrine space probe on the moon. However, the company failed due to a fuel leakage issue. On Feb 22, Intuitive Machines, another US-based company successfully landed its Odysseus moon lander near the lunar south pole.

The Odysseus safe landing is the first moon landing since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Odysseus was active on the moon’s surface for about a week before going silent ahead of its first lunar night. However, after the lunar night, Odysseus did not wake up again and Intuitive Machines announced that the IM1 mission was officially over. As for the SLIM spacecraft, the mission team is optimistic that it will continue to remain active for a while before giving up.

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