Japanese space agency launches smart SLIM mission to the Moon

The Japanese space agency JAXA has launched its own scientific mission to the Moon. The spacecraft, called the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), also known as the “Moon Sniper”, was launched on the night of September 6-7, 2023 from the Tanegashima Space Center aboard an H-IIA launch vehicle manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

SLIM is Japan’s first lunar mission with a surface landing, although the country has enough experience in asteroid exploration and participation in joint programs with NASA and ESA. The “smartness” of the SLIM mission lies in the use of AI and pattern recognition software. Based on the data collected by the previous SELENE orbiter, SLIM should accurately determine the landing site during descent and land with an error of no more than 100 meters. For comparison, the Apollo 11 landing error was up to 20 km.

The SLIM lander carries two “rovers”. The first is the LEV-1 “jumper” with a thermometer, inclinometer, radiation monitor and two large-format cameras. The second is a tiny, 250 grams, LEV-2, which can change its shape and has two miniature cameras.

SLIM is flying to the Moon on a very long, energy-efficient trajectory and will begin its mission only in January 2024. It is planned that the vehicle will spend 2-3 weeks in lunar orbit and work for several days on the Moon’s surface.

Together with SLIM, the Japanese X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) space observatory was launched into Earth orbit. Both satellites are operating according to the program.