Japan’s SLIM spacecraft is gearing up for its soft-landing on the lunar surface Friday morning, a milestone that would make the country the fifth to achieve the feat.

JAXA launched its SLIM lunar lander on Sept. 6, electing to take the long and loopy route to the Moon. After successfully lowering SLIM into a pre-landing lunar orbit this week, JAXA reported the spacecraft was ready for today’s touchdown attempt, a descent the agency calls “20 minutes of terror” due to the complexity and high-stakes of the mission. 

Don’t look down: With barely any atmosphere to break the fall and a surface peppered with a million craters, the descent is no doubt daunting—just ask ispace’s HAKUTO-R and Russia’s Luna-25, who both added to the lunar graveyard tally last year.

Adding further challenges to the mission, SLIM will attempt to land on a slope near the Shioli crater, which will require novel navigation and landing tech designed by JAXA. 

Pinpoint locating: SLIM has been nicknamed Sniper for its unique cameras and sensors. Its sharp eyes will use image matching to map the lunar surface for a precision landing and to scan the ground for hazardous obstacles. 

2-step landing: SLIM will touchdown with a hind leg first before tipping forward onto its front support legs. “As our landing target is on a slope, this is the simplest and lightest leg landing system, which has the lowest risk of overturning,” SLIM manager Kenji Kushiki said last year.

Sounds like 20 minutes of terror to us as well. 

All eyes on the Moon: If successful, it will join India’s Chandrayaan-3 as baby-faced lunar dwellers. As for the US, our grand return to the Moon via commercial landers has gotten off to a rocky start this year. Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander—which launched aboard Vulcan last week—experienced a propellant leak shortly after its voyage began and ended up making its way back home to Earth for a fiery end over the South Pacific. 

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