Japan H2-A Rocket Launch: Lunar Lander and X-ray Telescope Set to Explore Universe’s Origins

Japan H2-A Rocket Launch: Lunar Lander and X-ray Telescope Set to Explore Universe’s Origins
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Japan has successfully launched a rocket carrying two important payloads: an X-ray telescope that will study the origins of the universe and a lunar lander that will test a new technology for precise landing on the moon. The HII-A rocket lifted off from Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan on Thursday, September 7, 2023, and was broadcast live by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The rocket deployed a satellite called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), which will measure the speed and composition of the hot plasma that fills the space between galaxies. This information will help scientists understand how celestial objects were formed and how the universe evolved1. XRISM is a joint project between JAXA and NASA, and will use a sophisticated instrument to observe the intensity, temperature, shape and brightness of X-ray sources in the sky.

David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University, said that the mission is significant for revealing the properties of hot plasma, which makes up most of the matter in the universe. He added that plasmas have various potential applications, such as healing wounds, making computer chips and cleaning the environment. “Understanding the distribution of this hot plasma in space and time, as well as its dynamical 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.

The other payload on board the rocket was the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a lightweight lunar lander that will demonstrate a new technology for pinpoint landing on the moon. SLIM will not enter lunar orbit until three or four months after the launch, and will likely attempt a landing in early 2024. JAXA is developing this technology to prepare for future lunar probes and missions to other planets.

While current landings tend to be off by about 10 kilometers or more, SLIM is designed to be more accurate, within about 100 meters of the intended target. This will allow the lander to find a safer place to touch down. The lander successfully separated from the rocket about 45 minutes after the launch and proceeded on its proper track to eventually land on the moon. JAXA workers applauded and bowed with each other from their observation facility.

The launch comes at a time when the world is again turning to the challenge of going to the moon. Only four nations have successfully landed on the moon: the United States, Russia, China and India. Japan hopes to join them with SLIM and pave the way for more ambitious lunar exploration in the future.

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