Things were looking grim for Japan’s lunar lander shortly after it touched down on the moon’s surface nearly upside down. The SLIM probe, short for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, immediately had issues generating power due to its awkward positioning. But Japan’s space agency JAXA remained hopeful that a shift in the sun’s trajectory could deliver enough light to SLIM’s solar panels to resurrect the dormant spacecraft.
That hope became reality earlier this week when JAXA reestablished communication with SLIM a full nine days after it had gone dark. The sun’s rays finally hit SLIM’s panels at just the right angle to allow them to charge the lander’s battery. It was a huge relief for the team at JAXA, who had already deployed two tiny rover probes to the lunar surface to inspect the nearly-capsized spacecraft.
Dramatic photos from one of the rovers showed SLIM resting at nearly a 90 degree angle, with its panels angled uselessly away from the sunlight it desperately needed. The cause was determined to be a malfunction of SLIM’s main landing engines during its descent to the moon.
Now that SLIM has power again, JAXA aims to carry out as much of its scientific mission as possible. That includes snapping detailed photos of the lunar landscape with a specialized camera system. The team even has its sights set on several rock formations with canine-inspired nicknames like “Toy Poodle” and “St. Bernard.”
While not exactly the soft landing JAXA had envisioned, SLIM may yet fulfill its purpose thanks to a fortuitous shift in sunlight. But with the next solar night falling on Thursday, time is still against the plucky probe.