The moon has been visited by a lot of new spacecraft recently, built by government space agencies, private companies and nonprofit organizations. Some of the robotic explorers have orbited the moon, while others have landed on its surface.
The next spacecraft that will try to reach lunar soil in one piece is from JAXA, the Japanese space agency, and is known as Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM. It is aiming for a site near the Shioli crater on the lunar near side. If the landing succeeds, it will make Japan the fifth country to land on the moon, after the Soviet Union, the United States, China and India.
The vehicle will try to land on Friday morning (which is after midnight on Saturday in Japan).
Here’s what to know about SLIM’s lunar landing:
SLIM is currently in lunar orbit and will begin its descent around 10:40 a.m. Eastern time on Friday.
JAXA will provide a livestream of the landing with English translation starting at 9 a.m. The Times will provide an embedded video player above once the video feed starts.
The experimental SLIM spacecraft, nicknamed “moon sniper,” is about the size of a small food truck. The mission’s primary goal is to demonstrate a navigation system that could help future spacecraft land on the moon or other worlds with more precision. It could allow vehicles to set down in landing destinations that are less flat and more rugged, enabling better science.
SLIM has taken a long, circuitous journey to the moon. It launched on Sept. 6, 2023, traveling to space on an H-IIA rocket from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center. It only began orbiting the moon on Dec. 25. The duration of the flight allowed the spacecraft to save propellant and test its systems before it tries to land.
The spacecraft is small and light, but it isn’t traveling alone. After landing it will eject two small rovers, LEV-1 and LEV-2, which will briefly explore around the lander.