Japan’s ‘Moon Sniper’ resumes lunar exploration, captures close-up images of moon’s surface

On Monday, JAXA announced that it had successfully established communication with the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) and resumed operations. The agency also shared new images of the lunar surface captured by the explorer.

Japan’s robotic lunar explorer, nicknamed the “Moon Sniper,” is back in action after facing a power issue just hours after its successful landing on the moon. The spacecraft executed a precise landing on January 19, making Japan the fifth country to safely land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. However, a critical issue arose as one of its engines failed during the landing. This malfunction prevented its solar cells from generating electricity, forcing it to rely on limited battery power.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) decided to shut down the lunar explorer to conserve its battery, with plans to automatically restart it when the solar panel could generate power as the sun’s angle changed. On Monday, JAXA announced that it had successfully established communication with the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) and resumed operations. The agency also shared new images of the lunar surface captured by the explorer.

Equipped with a multi-band camera, the SLIM lander took a close-up image of a rock nicknamed “Toy Poodle.” The mission team, back on Earth, had previously created a mosaic showcasing the landing site by combining 257 images captured by SLIM right after landing. Scientists have given nicknames to various rocks on the lunar surface based on their estimated sizes.

The SLIM lander’s mission considered a “minimum success” by JAXA, involves studying rocks in the region known as the Sea of Nectar on the moon. This area, near a crater called Shioli, is about 200 miles south of the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 astronauts first landed. The goal is to collect unprecedented information about the moon’s origins by studying rocks and debris created by meteorite impacts.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of SLIM’s landing site, located five days after the Moon Sniper’s successful landing. Other countries, including India, have also engaged in lunar landing missions, driven by the desire to access water trapped as ice in permanently shadowed regions at the lunar south pole. This water could play a crucial role in future space exploration, serving as a potential resource for drinking water or fuel.

The successful resumption of operations for Japan’s Moon Sniper marks another milestone in the ongoing global efforts to explore and understand the moon’s composition and potential resources.