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After Chandrayaan 3, Japan eyes lunar landing as SLIM lander enters Moon orbit

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Japan’s space probe entered the Moon’s orbit on Monday, as the island nation strives to become the fifth country in the world to achieve a successful lunar landing.

SLIM, Japan’s moon probe (JAXA/Representative Image)
SLIM, Japan’s moon probe (JAXA/Representative Image)

“Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is pleased to announce that the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) was successfully inserted into lunar orbit at 16:51 (Japan Standard Time, JST) on December 25,” an official statement said.

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The lander’s descent towards the Moon is anticipated to commence on January 20, with its scheduled landing , said JAXA.

Launched on H-IIA rocket, it lifted off in September from the southern island of Tanegashima. If successful, the touchdown would make Japan only the fifth country to have successfully landed a probe on the Moon. The other countries are United States, Russia, China and India.

What is the aim of SLIM lander?

The SLIM lander, equipped with compact lunar probes, aims to achieve precise landing, referred to as ‘Moon Snipper’ in Japanese. With lightweight equipment for advanced observations and adaptable landings on resource-scarce planets, it represents a significant leap in exploration strategies.

The Japanese space agency, JAXA, says the crucial objective of demonstrating landing accuracy within 100m, notably in the 4 km x 2.4 km landing area designated for Chandrayaan 3.

JAXA says that the creation of the SLIM lander marks a qualitative shift, enabling humans to land precisely where intended, challenging the previous norm of choosing easy landing spots.

What next for SLIM lander?

The SLIM spacecraft’s lunar orbit insertion involves transitioning into an elliptical path connecting the Moon’s north and south poles.

The orbit, with a 6.4-hour period, ranges from approximately 600km at perilune (closest to the Moon) to 4,000km at apolune (farthest). The planned orbit adjustment aims to create a circular orbit at about 600km altitude by mid-January 2024.

Subsequently, preparations for landing will commence, with the perilune point lowering to 15km on January 19. The descent towards the Moon is set to begin around 0:00 am (JST) on January 20 (8:30pm on January 19 as per Indian time) with a scheduled landing on the lunar surface around 0:20 am (JST) on the same day.

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