On a clear Thursday, against a backdrop of anticipation and filled with profound aspirations, Japan sent its HII-A rocket spearheading into the skies, embarking on a momentous journey from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan. The primary purpose of this launch was the delivery of an X-ray telescope that carries the weight of our curiosities about the creation of the universe. A small lunar lander also hitched a ride on this cosmic voyage.
As the HII-A rocket tore through the veil of the Earth’s atmosphere, it was graciously feted by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. “We have a liftoff,” proclaimed the narrator at JAXA, his words filtering through the chords of excitement as the rocket erupted into the great expanse of day, carving its path above the Pacific.
Smoothly spiraling into an orbit around Earth this rocket will deposit an instrumental satellite named the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM). XRISM possesses the noteworthy capacity to calculate the velocity and composition of the mysterious matter that floats in the silent abyss between galaxies. The data gathered from such intricate matters may prove instrumental in comprehending how celestial objects took form, and it may unearth potential clues to solve the overarching enigma of the universe’s genesis.
Working collaboratively with NASA, JAXA aims to study the intensity of light shining at various wavelengths, the temperature gradients of celestial objects, along with their structural shape and brightness.
David Alexander, the director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University, purports that the mission holds significance in procuring insights into the properties of hot plasma. This superheated matter accounts for much of the universe and has the potential to play a massive role in diverse applications, from healing wounds to manufacturing computer chips and cleansing the environment.
Embarking the Japanese rocket is the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a featherweight lunar lander. SLIM will lag behind in orbit for three to four months post-launch and aims to perform a landing early next year. Simultaneously, JAXA endeavors to perfect “pinpoint landing technology”, gearing up for future lunar probes and interplanetary landings.
The current lunar landings tend to miss the mark by approximately 10 kilometers, but the Smart Lander stands to improve this by landing within about 100 meters of the designated target. Enabling the compact machine to find a safer landing spot, this improvement is a significant leap forward for space technology and exploration.
Such advancements come at a time when lunar exploration has re-emerged as a global ambition. Only four nations, the U.S., Russia, China, and India, have successfully set foot on the moon. Juxtaposing this, Japan’s space endeavors have faced recent challenges, such as the H3 rocket abortion due to a glitch and successful liftoff followed by eventual destruction.
Undeterred, Japan presses forward with its lunar aspirations, starting the recruitment of astronaut candidates for the first time in 13 years. The dream of landing a Japanese astronaut on the moon persists and forms a tangible indicator of Japan’s space ambitions.
The allure of the moon has captivated humanity for countless generations. From the Apollo program that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to walk on the moon in 1969, to the final NASA human moon mission in 1972, the fascination with our celestial neighbor has endured. Today, renewed attention to lunar missions and lunar technology drives us forward as we continue our exploration of the cosmos.