Christmas brought a nice accomplishment for Japan’s SLIM space probe, which entered the Moon’s orbit on Monday, December 25. The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is nicknamed the “Moon Sniper” because it was designed to land within 100 meters of a specific target. And, with how things are going now, the SLIM prob looks set to make contact with the lunar surface next month.
If the lunar probe is successful in its touchdown, it will make Japan only the fifth country to have landed a spacecraft on the Moon. Currently, only four nations have managed that feat, including the United States, Russia, China, and most recently, India with its Chandrayaan-3 lander.
Japan’s latest probe lifted off in September and has continued its journey to the moon in relative silence, without much fanfare. However, now that it has entered the lunar orbit, things are about to heat up, as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) prepares for the SLIM probe’s landing procedures to kick off on January 20 around midnight Japan time.
It’s expected only to take 20 minutes to land the probe on the surface, at which point it will hopefully prove that high-precision landings of this type are possible on the moon. The lander is also equipped with scientific instruments, like a spherical probe allowing astronomers to survey the moon’s surface.
It is the high-precision plans for the SLIM probe that make it stand out so much, though. Previously, the margin of error has often been 10-plus kilometers with lunar landings. However, JAXA’s latest attempt could prove that it’s possible to land within a margin of error of just 100 meters, something previously thought impossible.
Of course, pulling that off will be no small feat, and landing on the lunar surface is extremely difficult in and of itself because of the lack of an atmosphere. All eyes will be on Japan’s SLIM probe once January 20 rolls around. Japan is also expected to send its first astronauts to the moon later this decade aboard one of the Artemis missions.