JAXA’s Moon Sniper SLIM spacecraft captures target landing zone before successful lunar swing-by Science News

JAXA's Moon Sniper SLIM spacecraft captures target landing zone before successful lunar swing-by

Illustration of the SLIM spacecraft in front of an actual image of the Moon. (Image credit: JAXA).

JAXA’s SLIM mission, headed for a precision landing on the Moon’s surface, has captured an image of the Moon from a vantage point not seen from Earth. The image was captured at a distance of about 7,000 kilometers from the Moon, about 45 minutes before the planned lunar swing-by, which should allow the spacecraft to re-enter lunar orbit more precisely in about three months. All previous landers on the Moon had prioritized square kilometer-sized landing areas, whereas SLIM intends to land on sites 100 meters in size, which is why it is known as the ‘Moon Sniper’.

Moon captured by SLIM. (Image credit: JAXA).

If successful, SLIM will be the first spacecraft to demonstrate a precision landing on the lunar surface. SLIM is hoping to land on the slopes of a fresh impact crater, itself near the larger Shioli impact crater, which is close to the Moon’s nearshore ocean. In the image of the Moon taken by SLIM before swing-by, the landing site appears just below the lunar equator. SLIM captured the Moon from a vantage point that is not seen from Earth, and image compression is the reason the Moon appears so blurry.

SLIM with respect to the Moon as seen from Earth during swing-by. (Image credit: JAXA).

In a swing-by, a spacecraft flies past an astronomical object, such as an asteroid, moon, or planet, without causing significant deflection in the spacecraft’s trajectory. Swing-by occurred at a considerable distance from the Moon at 15:47 JST or 12:17 AM IST on October 04, 2023. At its closest approach, SLIM was at an altitude of 4,992 kilometers above the Moon, traveling at a velocity of 1.47 kilometers per second relative to the Moon. The swing-by maneuver was executed approximately one week after the trans-lunar injection burn, sending the spacecraft accelerating toward lunar orbit.

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