Japan’s SLIM probe achieves remarkably precise moon landing, boosts space program ambitions.

In a groundbreaking achievement, Japan has successfully executed an exceptionally precise moon landing with its SLIM probe, marking the nation’s fifth spacecraft to reach the lunar surface. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the accomplishment on Thursday, highlighting the hope that this demonstration of precise landing technology will reinvigorate Japan’s space program and strengthen its role in space collaboration with the United States, particularly in response to China’s advancements.

JAXA reported receiving all data related to the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) within 2 hours and 37 minutes after its weekend touchdown. The precision of the landing, described as “pinpoint,” is estimated to be within 3 to 4 meters, a distance equivalent to 10 to 12 feet, according to Shinichiro Sakai, the project manager for the lander.

The SLIM probe, often referred to as the “moon sniper,” aimed to land within 100 meters (328 feet) of its target, surpassing the conventional accuracy of several kilometers. Utilizing “vision-based” navigation, JAXA believes SLIM’s technology could prove instrumental in future explorations, especially in hilly moon poles considered potential sources of fuel, water, and oxygen.

Despite an unintended position resulting from a probable engine issue during the final touchdown phase, SLIM deployed a baseball-sized wheeled rover, LEV-2, which captured a detailed image of the lunar surface. While the lander’s solar panels are currently unable to generate electricity due to the tumble, JAXA remains optimistic that a change in sunlight direction could restore power.

Japan, home to several private-sector space startups, has ambitious plans, including sending an astronaut to the moon in the coming years. However, recent setbacks in rocket development, such as the launch failure of its flagship rocket H3 in March, have delayed space missions, including SLIM and the LUPEX project, a joint lunar exploration initiative with India.

Despite challenges, Japan’s space endeavors continue, with aspirations for lunar exploration and collaboration. The success of SLIM adds momentum to Japan’s space ambitions, showcasing technological prowess and contributing to the global exploration race.