Japan’s “Moon Sniper” awakens and posts fresh lunar surface photos

Japan’s space agency announced on Monday that the “Moon Sniper” robotic explorer has resumed operations following a power outage that forced the spacecraft to shut down hours after arriving on the moon ten days ago.

Just after 10:20 a.m. ET on January 19 (or 12:20 a.m. JST on January 20), the explorer made a precision touchdown, making Japan the fifth nation to land a spacecraft safely on the moon. However, a serious problem emerged almost immediately.

According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), one of the spacecraft’s engines failed during landing, causing it to land facing the wrong way and forcing it to rely only on battery power because its solar cells were unable to produce electricity.

The agency said the lunar explorer would be automatically restarted if its solar panel started generating electricity as the sun’s angle changed, but instead turned it off to preserve its battery.

“succeeded in establishing communication with (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM) last night and have resumed operations!” JAXA said on the social media platform X on Monday.

New pictures of the lunar surface have also been taken by the explorer and sent back to the mission crew on Earth.

A multi-band camera on the lander allows it to take pictures of the lunar surface. Previously, the mission team assembled 257 photos taken immediately upon landing by SLIM to produce a mosaic that displayed the landing scene. Other team members gave the pebbles of interest nicknames,

A close-up of the rock character “Toy Poodle” was released by the agency on Monday. The lander’s purpose is to quickly examine rocks that may hold clues to the moon’s formation.

According to the agency, the SLIM lander’s mission can be deemed a “minimum success” because it used optical navigation to accomplish a soft and accurate lunar touchdown. Japan now plans to use the lander to gather hitherto unheard-of data about the Sea of Nectar, an area of the moon.

The spacecraft landed close to a crater known as Shioli, which is named after a Japanese woman whose first name is pronounced “she-oh-lee.” Shioli is located roughly 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the Sea of Tranquility, which is the area close to the lunar equator where Apollo 11 made its moon landing.

The moon gets craters and stony debris all over its surface from meteorites and other objects striking it. Scientists are fascinated by these rocks because studying them is akin to looking inside the moon. The makeup of the rocks and their minerals may provide additional insight into the moon’s formation.

A picture of SLIM’s landing site taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter—which has been orbiting the moon since 2009—was released by NASA on Friday. Five days after the Moon Sniper’s landing, the photo was taken from a distance of roughly fifty miles (equivalent to eighty kilometers).

Over the past year, several space agencies and nations have tried moon landing missions, resulting in both a historic first and several disasters.

After the United States, China, and the erstwhile Soviet Union, India was the fourth nation to carry out a controlled lunar landing when its Chandrayaan-3 mission reached close to the lunar south pole in August.

Countries’ ambition to access water stored as ice in continuously shadowed regions at the lunar south pole is one of the driving forces for the current space race on the moon. In the future, when humanity pushes the boundaries of space exploration, it might be used as fuel or drinking water.