- By Jonathan Amos
- scientific correspondent
Japan’s lunar lander ended up on its face when it made its historic landing on the lunar surface.
The first image of the damaged Slim spacecraft shows that it rotated 90 degrees from how it should have been at rest.
This partly explains the difficulties it has had in generating the electricity necessary for its operation.
The image was captured by the small, baseball-sized robot called Sora-Q that was ejected from Slim moments before landing last Saturday.
“An anomaly in the main engine affected the landing attitude of the spacecraft,” the Japanese space agency Jaxa said in a statement.
It seems that one of Slim’s two large thrusters (Smart Lander to investigate the Moon) stopped working during the descent.
To get the image back to Earth, Sora-Q first had to transmit it to a second ejected roving robot, the Lunar Excursion Vehicle 1, or Lev-1. This jumping robot has radio equipment that can communicate with mission control independently of Slim.
The lander was shut down three hours after arrival because it could not operate its solar cells. With the battery quickly draining, Jaxa officials made the decision to put Slim into hibernation.
Their assumption, which seems corroborated by the Sora-Q image, is that the main spacecraft is oriented in such a way that it prevents the solar cells from seeing the Sun.
The hope is to wake Slim up when the lighting angles change at his landing site.
Before hibernation, controllers were able to obtain a series of photographs of the surface taken by their onboard infrared camera.
These show that the spacecraft is on a slope, surrounded by small rocks.
Slim’s landing site is on the rim of an equatorial crater known as Shioli.
Saturday’s landing at 00:20 Japan Standard Time (15:20 GMT) made Jaxa the fifth national space agency to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, after the US, the former Soviet Union , China and India.
Statistically, it has proven very difficult to deposit it gently on the lunar surface. Only about half of all attempts have been successful.
Jaxa placed its trust in new precision navigation technologies.
The lander’s onboard computer used rapid image processing and crater mapping to avoid hazards upon reaching its landing point.
The engineers wanted to get within 100 m (330 ft) of their target location. This was achieved.
“Analysis of data acquired before the power outage confirmed that Slim had reached the surface of the Moon about 55 meters east of the original landing site,” Jaxa said, adding that the onboard computer also made a decision in the final moments of descent a Move the boat to one side to avoid obstacles.
This will delight the officials, as will the success of the two explorers. Not only did Sora-Q move over the lunar surface and take the picture of it, but Lev-1 also managed to jump. Like Slim, Lev-1 also went out.
“The achievement of Lev-1’s hopping movements on the lunar surface, robot-to-robot communication between Lev-1 and Sora-Q, and fully autonomous operations represents a groundbreaking achievement. It would be considered a valuable technological demonstration for future lunar explorations.” . , and the knowledge and experience acquired will be applied in future missions,” the agency said.