TOKYO: Japan's moon lander achieved an unusually precise touchdown within 328 feet of its target, the space agency said on Thursday, after the nation became the fifth to put a spacecraft on the moon with the weekend touchdown of its SLIM probe.
Japan hopes the demonstration of what it called a "pinpoint" moon landing will revitalise a space programme seeking to overcome setbacks as it moves to capture a bigger role in space by partnering with ally the United States to counter China.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said it received all data about the touchdown of its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) within the 2 hours and 37 minutes before the lander lost power.
"We proved that you can land wherever you want, rather than where you are able to," its project manager for the lander, Shinichiro Sakai, told a press conference.
"This will inspire more and more people, desirably Japanese missions, to try to land on unexplored places on the moon."
One of the lander's two main engines probably stopped in the final phase of touchdown, so that it drifted 55 m away from the target site to an unintended position, Sakai said.
In the absence of engine trouble, it could have landed as close as 3 m to 4 m from the target, he said.
The lander was toppled on the gentle slope of a crater on the moon's surface, in a picture published by JAXA and taken by a wheeled rover SLIM deployed during touchdown.
Angled westward because of the tumble, SLIM's solar panels have been unable to generate electricity, but a change in the direction of sunlight could power it up before the next lunar sunset on Feb. 1 brings freezing cold.
"SLIM is not designed to survive a lunar night", said Sakai.
The power outage meant the lander's multi-band spectral camera, tasked to study the composition of moon rocks, could only generate low-resolution images, JAXA said. — Reuters