Japan's robotic SLIM spacecraft will attempt to pull off the nation's first-ever successful moon landing on Friday morning (Jan. 19), and you can watch the action live.
SLIM (short for "Smart Lander for Investigating Moon") is scheduled to begin its touchdown operations Friday at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT; midnight on Jan. 20 Japan time), with a soft landing on the moon occurring 20 minutes later, if all goes according to plan.
SLIM launched atop a Japanese H-2A rocket on Sept. 6 of last year. The moon probe shared that ride with an X-ray space telescope called XRISM, which was deployed into low Earth orbit shortly after launch and recently beamed home its first test photos after a successful checkout period.
SLIM took a long and energy-efficient path to the moon, eventually arriving in orbit around Earth's nearest neighbor on Christmas Day. The spacecraft then spent three weeks prepping for landing day, which has now nearly arrived.
If all goes according to plan on Friday, SLIM will land within 330 feet (100 meters) of a target spot on the rim of the moon's Shioli Crater. The goal is to demonstrate the technology needed to make such pinpoint touchdowns.
"SLIM's mission architecture hopes to shift the standards of lunar landing missions, from touching down where it's easy to setting down exactly where desired," the nonprofit Planetary Society wrote in a mission description.
Success would vault Japan into a very exclusive spacefaring club. To date, only four nations — the Soviet Union, the United States, China and India — have aced a soft landing on the moon.
SLIM won't be making Japan's first lunar touchdown try. A tiny lander called OMOTENASHI launched toward the moon as part of NASA's uncrewed Artemis 1 mission in November 2022, but the little Japanese probe didn't reach its destination. And last April, the Hakuto-R spacecraft, built by Tokyo-based company ispace, crashed during its landing attempt after its sensors got confused by the moon's rough topography.
Another private moonshot, this one American, went awry recently as well: Astrobotic's Peregrine lander suffered a fuel leak shortly after its Jan. 8 launch, scuttling a landing attempt that was targeted for mid-February. Peregrine made it out to lunar distance despite that issue, then looped back toward Earth. It's scheduled to collide with our planet on Thursday afternoon (Jan. 18) over the South Pacific.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.