TOKYO – Japan on Thursday launched a rocket containing an X-ray telescope that will investigate the origin of the universe, as well as a small lunar lander.
The launch of the HII-A rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in the southwest Japan was shown live on video by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as JAXA.
“We have a launch,” said the narrator at JAXA as the rocket soared in a burst of smoke and then flew over the Pacific Ocean.
Thirteen minutes after liftoff, the rocket launched a satellite into orbit called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, or XRISM, that will measure the speed and composition of whatever lies between galaxies.
That information will help study how celestial bodies formed, and hopefully help solve the mystery of how the universe came to be, JAXA says.
In collaboration with NASA, JAXA will look at the strength of light at different wavelengths, the temperature of things in space and their shapes and brightness.
David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University, believes the mission is important for understanding the properties of hot plasma, or the superheated matter that makes up much of the universe.
Plasmas can be used in a variety of ways, including healing wounds, making computer chips, and cleaning up the environment.
“Understanding the distribution of this hot plasma in space and time, as well as its dynamic motion, will shed light on diverse phenomena such as black holes, the evolution of chemical elements in the universe, and the formation of galactic clusters,” Alexander said.
Also aboard Japan’s latest rocket is the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, a lightweight lunar lander. The Smart Lander will not enter lunar orbit for the first three or four months after launch and would likely attempt a landing early next year, according to the space agency.
The lander successfully separated from the rocket about 45 minutes after launch and continued on its own course, eventually landing on the moon. JAXA employees applauded and bowed to each other from their observation facility.
JAXA is developing “precise landing technology” in preparation for future lunar probes and landings on other planets. While landings now tend to veer about 10 kilometers (6 miles) or more, the Smart Lander is designed to be more accurate, coming within about 100 meters (330 feet) of its intended target, JAXA official Shinichiro Sakai told reporters prior to landing. launch.
This allows the box-shaped gadget to find a safer place to land.
This move comes as the world refocuses on the challenge of getting to the moon. Only four countries have successfully landed on the moon: the US, Russia, China and India.
Last month, India landed a spacecraft near the south pole of the moon. That came just days after Russia failed for the first time in nearly half a century in its attempt to return to the moon. A Japanese private company called ispace crashed a lander in April while attempting to land on the moon.
Japan’s space program has been marred by recent failures. In February, the H3 rocket launch was aborted due to a malfunction. The launch succeeded a month later, but the rocket had to be destroyed after the second stage failed to ignite properly.
Japan has begun recruiting astronaut candidates for the first time in 13 years, signaling its ambitions to send a Japanese to the moon.
Going to the moon has fascinated mankind for decades. Under the US Apollo program, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969.
NASA’s last human mission to the moon was in 1972, and the focus on sending humans to the moon seemed to be waning, relegating missions to robots.
It’s Yuri Kageyama’s turn Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
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