Japan became the fifth country in history to reach the moon when one of its spacecrafts without astronauts successfully made a soft landing on the lunar surface early Saturday.
However, space officials said they needed more time to analyse whether the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, achieved its mission priority of making a pinpoint landing. They also said the craft’s solar panel had failed to generate power, which could shorten its activity on the moon.
Space officials believe that the SLIM’s small rovers were launched as planned and that data was being transmitted back to Earth, said Hitoshi Kuninaka, head of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, a unit of Japan’s space agency.
But he said that SLIM’s solar battery wasn’t generating power and that it had only a few more hours of battery life. He said the priority was for the craft to gather as much data about its landing and the moon as possible on the remaining battery.
Japan follows the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India in reaching the moon.
Kuninaka said he believes that Japan’s space program at least achieved “minimum” success.
SLIM landed on the moon at about 12:20am Tokyo time Saturday (1520 GMT Friday).
There was a tense wait for news after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s mission control initially said that SLIM was on the lunar surface, but that it was still “checking its status.” No further details were given until a news conference nearly two hours later.
For the mission to be considered fully successful, space officials needed to confirm whether SLIM made a pinpoint landing. Kuninaka said that while more time was needed, he personally thought it was most likely achieved, based on his observation of data showing the spacecraft’s movement until the landing and its ability to transmit signals after landing. He said the solar panel is possibly not in the planned angle, but there is still hope.
Despite the solar panel issue, “it’s delightful news,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a message posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, pledging the government’s continuing backing for the endeavours toward new challenges.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also lauded SLIM’s landing with an X message, congratulating Japan “on being the historic 5th country to land successfully on the Moon! We value our partnership in the cosmos and continued collaboration” in the US-led multinational Artemis Moon exploration.
SLIM, which was aiming to hit a very small target, is a lightweight spacecraft about the size of a passenger vehicle. It was using “pinpoint landing” technology that promises far greater control than any previous moon landing.
While most previous probes have used landing zones about 10 kilometres (six miles) wide, SLIM was aiming at a target of just 100 meters (330 feet).
A landing of such precision would be a world’s first, and would be crucial technology for a sustainable, long-term and accurate space probe system, said Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.
Japan needs the technology to secure its place and contribute in international space projects, Yamakawa said.
The project was the fruit of two decades of work on precision technology by JAXA.
SLIM, nicknamed “the Moon Sniper,” started its descent at midnight Saturday, and within 15 minutes it was down to about 10 kilometres (six miles) above the lunar surface, according to the space agency, which is known as JAXA.
At an altitude of five kilometers (three miles), the lander was in a vertical descent mode, then at 50 meters (165 feet) above the surface, SLIM was supposed to make a parallel movement to find a safe landing spot, JAXA said.
The spacecraft was testing technology to allow moon missions to land “where we want to, rather than where it is easy to land,” JAXA has said. The spacecraft also was supposed to seek clues about the origin of the moon, including analysing minerals with a special camera.
The SLIM, equipped with a pad each on its five legs to cushion impact, was aiming to land near the Shioli crater, near a region covered in volcanic rock.
The closely watched mission came only 10 days after a moon mission by a US private company failed when the spacecraft developed a fuel leak hours after the launch.
SLIM was launched on a Mitsubishi Heavy H2A rocket in September. It initially orbited Earth and entered lunar orbit on December 25.
Japan hopes to regain confidence in its space technology after a number of failures. A spacecraft designed by a Japanese company crashed during a lunar landing attempt in April, and a new flagship rocket failed its debut launch in March.
JAXA has a track record with difficult landings. Its Hayabusa2 spacecraft, launched in 2014, touched down twice on the 900-meter-long (3,000-foot-long) asteroid Ryugu, collecting samples that were returned to Earth.
A successful pinpoint landing by SLIM, especially on the moon, would raise Japan’s profile in the global space technology race.
Takeshi Tsuchiya, an aeronautics professor at the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo, said it was important to confirm the accuracy of landing on a targeted area.
“It is necessary to show the world that Japan has the appropriate technology in order to be able to properly assert Japan’s position in lunar development,” he said. The moon is important from the perspective of explorations of resources, and it can also be used as a base to go to other planets, like Mars, he said.
Experts say Japan needs to demonstrate its consistency in the precision landing technology to be competitive.
SLIM was carrying two small autonomous probes — lunar excursion vehicles LEV-1 and LEV-2, which officials say were believed to have been released just before landing.
LEV-1, equipped with an antenna and a camera, is tasked with recording SLIM’s landing. LEV-2, is a ball-shaped rover equipped with two cameras, developed by JAXA together with Sony, toymaker Tomy and Doshisha University.
February's Full Snow Moon rises tonight, the smallest full moon of 2024 – Space.com
The full moon will appear a bit more petite in the sky tonight as the smallest full moon of 2024 rises.
February’s Full Snow Moon will occur while the moon approaches its farthest point from Earth in its orbit, known as apogee. That means tonight’s full moon will appear up to 10% smaller in the night sky — not enough for most of us to notice, but seasoned moonwatchers might be able to tell the difference.
The Full Snow Moon will rise around 6:30 p.m. local time in the east, just as the sun is setting in the west. It will appear between the hind legs of the Leo constellation, the Lion, and reach its highest point in the night sky around midnight. The moon will remain visible for the entirety of the night, setting with the next rising sun.
The moon appears to change in size in the night sky throughout the month from our vantage point on Earth’s surface due to the fact that the moon’s orbit isn’t perfectly circular. Instead, it’s elliptical, or oval-shaped, meaning its distance to Earth changes throughout its journey.
The moon reaches around 226,000 miles (363,300 kilometers) from Earth while at its closest point to our planet (known as perigee), and about 251,000 miles (405,500 km) from our planet while at its farthest point (apogee).
When a full moon occurs while the moon is at perigee, we call these “supermoons” due to the fact that they appear up to 14% bigger in the sky. While the size difference can be difficult to discern with the unaided eye, supermoons are noticeably brighter, sometimes appearing up to 30% brighter in the night sky.
When full moons occur while the moon is at apogee, these moons are sometimes referred to as “micromoons,” although neither micromoon nor supermoon are officially-recognized astronomical terms.
This month, the moon will reach the exact point of apogee at 9:58 a.m. EST (1458 GMT) on Sunday (Feb. 25), according to In-the-Sky.org.
February’s Full Snow Moon gets its name from the fact that it occurs in the midst of winter for the Northern Hemisphere, and February can often be the snowiest month for many parts of North America.
In China, February’s full moon this year marks the end of Spring Festival, the holiday period that begins with Lunar New Year. In 2024, this full moon falls during a traditional holiday known as the Lantern Festival that marks a high point in Chinese New Year celebrations.
Other cultures and locations have their own names for February’s full moon, however. The Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) people of what is now southern Canada and the Midwestern United States have referred to February’s full moon as Mikwa Giizis, or the Bear Moon. The Indigenous Cree people of North America have called it the Kisipisim, or the Great Moon, while the Cherokee people of what is now the Southeastern United States know it as the Bone Moon.
And whether you want to take your own photos of the moon or to explore photographing the night sky in general, check out our guide on how to photograph the moon, as well as our recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lander tipped over at touchdown, but it's still kicking – Yahoo Canada Finance
It turns out Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus spacecraft didn’t land upright after all. In a press conference with NASA Friday evening, the company revealed the lander is laying on its side after coming in a little faster than expected, likely catching its foot on the surface at the moment of landing. Fortunately, Odysseus is positioned in such a way that its solar panels are still getting enough light from the sun to keep it charged, and the team has been able to communicate with it. Pictures from the surface should be coming soon.
While the initial assessment was that Odysseus had landed properly, further analysis indicated otherwise. Intuitive Machines CEO and co-founder Steve Altemus said “stale telemetry” was to blame for the earlier reading.
All payloads except the one static art installation, though — Jeff Koons’ Moon Phases sculptures — are on the upturned side. The lander and its NASA science payloads have been collecting data from the journey, descent and landing, which the team will use to try and get a better understanding of what happened. But, all things considered, it seems to be doing well.
The team plans to eject the EagleCam, developed by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, so it can take a picture of the lander and its surroundings perhaps as soon as this weekend. It was supposed to be ejected during descent to capture the moment of landing, but issues on touchdown day prevented it from being released.
Once Odysseus was in lunar orbit and hours away from its landing attempt, the team discovered its laser range finders, which are key to its precision navigation, were not working — due entirely to human error. According to Altemus, someone forgot to flip a safety switch that would allow them to turn on, so they couldn’t. That realization was “like a punch in the stomach,” Altemus said, and they thought they could lose the mission.
The team was thankfully able to make a last-second adjustment cooked up on the fly by Intuitive Machines CTO and co-founder Tim Crain, who suggested they use one of the on-board NASA payloads instead to guide the descent, the Navigation Doppler LIDAR (NDL). In the end, Odysseus made it there alright. Its mission is expected to last a little over a week, until lunar night falls.
Intuitive Machines: Odysseus Moon lander 'tipped over on touchdown' – BBC.com
The Odysseus Moon lander is likely lying on its side with its head resting against a rock.
The US spacecraft, which made history on Thursday by becoming the first ever privately built and operated robot to complete a soft lunar touchdown, is otherwise in good condition.
Its owner, Texan firm Intuitive Machines, says Odysseus has plenty of power and is communicating with Earth.
Controllers are trying to retrieve pictures from the robot.
Steve Altemus, the CEO and co-founder of IM, said it wasn’t totally clear what had happened but the data suggested the robot caught a foot on the surface and then fell because it still had some lateral motion at the moment of landing.
Another possibility is that Odysseus broke a leg as it came down. Certainly, inertial measurement sensors indicate the body of the vehicle to be in a horizontal pose.
Whatever the reason for the unexpected landed configuration, radio antennas are still pointing at Earth and solar cells continue to collect energy to charge the battery system.
Fortuitously, all the scientific instruments that planned to take observations on the Moon are on the side of Odysseus facing up, which should allow them to do some work. The only payload on the “wrong side” of the lander, pointing down at the lunar surface, is a static art project.
“We’re hopeful to get pictures and really do an assessment of the structure and assessment of all the external equipment,” Mr Altemus told reporters.
“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over. And so that’s really exciting for us, and we are continuing the surface operations mission as a result of it.”
The robot had been directed to a cratered terrain near the Moon’s south pole, and the IM team believes it got very close to the targeted site, perhaps within 2km or 3km.
A US space agency satellite called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will search for Odysseus this weekend to confirm its whereabouts.
The IM mission is part of Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme, in which the agency is paying various private American companies for cargo services to the Moon – in the case of Odysseus with a fee of $118M (£93m).
All the companies are responsible for the financing, build, launch and operation of their spacecraft – and for finding commercial payloads to supplement Nasa’s.
Six CLPS missions were planned for this year. The first, by Pittsburgh-based firm Astrobotic, ended in failure. Its Peregrine lander developed technical problems en route to the Moon and gave up the opportunity of a touchdown. The robot was brought back to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
Intuitive Machines has two further missions in prospect for 2024. The next will see a robot drill into the surface. Another Texan company, Firefly Aerospace, should also shoot for the Moon at some point in the coming months.
Nasa regards the CLPS approach as a more economical way of getting its science done, while at the same time seeding what it hopes will become a thriving lunar economy.
Joel Kearns, from the agency’s science mission directorate, described the Odysseus landing as a “gigantic accomplishment”, and an affirmation of the CLPS policy.
Irrespective of its current functionality, Odysseus is unlikely to work much beyond the beginning of March when darkness will fall on the landing site.
“Once the Sun sets on ‘Oddie’, the batteries will attempt to keep the vehicle warm and alive but eventually it’ll fall into a deep cold and then the electronics that we produce just won’t survive the deep cold of lunar night. And so, best case scenario, we’re looking at another nine to 10 days (of operations),” said Tim Crain, IM’s CTO and co-founder.
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