Japan launches lunar lander and X-ray telescope to explore origins of universe

Japan Launches Lunar Lander And X-Ray Telescope To Explore Origins Of Universe
Japan's HII-A rocket blasts off at Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima
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By Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press

Japan has launched a rocket carrying an X-ray telescope that will explore the origins of the universe as well as a small lunar lander.

The launch of the HII-A rocket from Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima on Thursday was shown on live video by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as Jaxa.


“We have a lift-off,” the narrator at Jaxa said as the rocket flew up in a burst of smoke and then flew over the Pacific.

Japan Rocket Launch
Japan’s HII-A rocket blasts off from the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima (Kyodo News/AP)

Thirteen minutes after the launch, the rocket put into orbit around Earth a satellite called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, or Xrism, which will measure the speed and make-up of what lies between galaxies.


That information helps in studying how celestial objects were formed, and will hopefully lead to solving the mystery of how the universe was created, Jaxa said.

In co-operation 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 in Texas, believes the mission is significant for delivering insight into the properties of hot plasma, or the superheated matter that makes up much of the universe.

Plasmas have the potential to be used in various ways, including 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,” he said.

Japan Rocket Launch
Workers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries celebrate as the rocket puts a satellite into orbit (Kyodo News/AP)

Also on board the latest Japanese rocket is the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or Slim, a lightweight lunar lander.


The Smart Lander will not make lunar orbit for three or four months after the launch and is likely to attempt a landing early next year, according to the space agency.

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 to each other from their observation facility.

Jaxa is developing “pinpoint landing technology” to prepare for future lunar probes and landing on other planets.

While landings now tend to be off by about six miles (10km) or more, the Smart Lander is designed to be more precise, within about 330ft (100m) of the intended target, Jaxa official Shinichiro Sakai told reporters ahead of the launch.


That allows the box-shaped gadgetry to find a safer place to land.

Japan Rocket Launch
The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, or Xrism, will measure the speed and make-up of what lies between galaxies (Kyodo News/AP)

The move 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 US, Russia, China and India.

Last month, India landed a spacecraft near the Moon’s south pole. That came just days after Russia failed in its attempt to return to the Moon for the first time in nearly half a century.

A private Japanese company, called ispace, crashed a lander in trying to land on the Moon in April.

Japan’s space programme has been marred by recent failures.

In February, the H3 rocket launch was aborted for a glitch. Lift-off a month later succeeded, but the rocket had to be destroyed after its second stage failed to ignite properly.

Japan has started recruiting astronaut candidates for the first time in 13 years, making clear its ambitions to send a Japanese astronaut to the Moon.

Going to the Moon has fascinated mankind for decades. Under the US Apollo programme, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon in 1969.

The last Nasa human mission to the Moon was in 1972, and the focus on sending humans to the Moon has since appeared to wane, with missions being relegated to robots.

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