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Japan makes contact with 'sniper' spacecraft after it lands on moon

 (JAXA)
(JAXA)

Japan has made contact with its "sniper" spacecraft after it landed on the moon in a historic mission on Friday.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) landed on the moon's surface at around 3.20pm UK time and re-established communication with earth.

However, JAXA said that the spacecraft's solar panels were not able to generate electricity, possibly because they are angled wrong.

"SLIM is now operating only on its battery, and we are prioritising the transfer of its data onto earth", Hitoshi Kuninaka, the head of JAXA's space lab, told a press conference.

Only the US, the former Soviet Union, China and India have previously successfully landed on the moon.

It will take up to a month to verify whether SLIM had achieved the high-precision goals, JAXA has said.

Japan is increasingly looking to play a bigger role in space, partnering with ally the United States to counter China.

The country is also home to several private-sector space startups and the JAXA aims to send an astronaut to the moon as part of NASA's Artemis programme in the next few years.

But the Japanese space agency has recently faced multiple setbacks in rocket development, including the launch failure in March of its new flagship rocket H3. The failure caused widespread delays in Japan's space missions, including SLIM and a joint lunar exploration with India, which in August made a historic touchdown on the moon's south pole.

The precision landing technology will become a powerful tool in future exploration of hilly moon poles - seen as a potential source of oxygen, fuel and water - and boosts a lunar lander's chance of survival, according to JAXA.

SLIM's successful touchdown and demonstration of the precision landing "will help Japan to keep its technology advanced at a very high level in the world," Ritsumeikan University professor Kazuto Saiki said before the touchdown attempt.

On landing, SLIM successfully deployed two mini-probes - a hopping vehicle as big as a microwave oven and a baseball-sized wheeled rover - that would have taken pictures of the spacecraft, JAXA said.

Tech giant Sony Group, toymaker Tomy and several Japanese universities jointly developed the robots.