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The launch of a revolutionary satellite that shows celestial objects in a new light and the moon lander “Moon Sniper” has been postponed.
The launch was expected at 8:26 p.m. ET on Sunday, or 9:26 a.m. Japan Standard Time on Monday, but inclement weather — and particularly strong high-altitude winds over the launch site — resulted in a postponement less than 30 minutes earlier, according to the airline Aerospace Research Agency. Though the agency hasn’t announced a new launch date, the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center is reserved until September 15.
The start had already been postponed twice due to bad weather.
The XRISM (pronounced “crism”) satellite, also known as the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission, is a joint JAXA-NASA mission also involving the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
Also included is JAXA’s SLIM or Smart Lander for Investigating Moon. This small reconnaissance lander is designed to demonstrate a “pinpoint” landing at a specific location within 100 meters (328 feet) instead of the typical kilometer range, using high-precision landing technology. The precision led to the mission’s nickname: Moon Sniper.
According to NASA, the satellite and its two instruments will observe the hottest regions, largest structures and objects with the strongest gravity in the universe. XRISM detects X-rays, a wavelength invisible to humans.
Studying stellar explosions and black holes
X-rays are emitted from some of the most energetic objects and events in the universe, which is why astronomers want to study them.
“Some of the things we want to study with XRISM include the aftermath of stellar explosions and near-light-speed particle jets fired from supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies,” said Richard Kelley, XRISM principal investigator at Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a statement. “But of course we are most excited about all the unexpected phenomena that XRISM will discover while observing our cosmos.”
Compared to other wavelengths of light, X-rays are so short that they pass through the cup-shaped mirrors that observe and collect visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light, such as the James Webb and Hubble Space Telescopes.
With this in mind, XRISM has thousands of curved, individually nested mirrors that are better designed to detect X-rays. Once the satellite reaches orbit, it needs a few months to calibrate itself. The mission is designed for a period of three years.
According to NASA, the satellite can detect X-rays with energies ranging from 400 to 12,000 electron volts, which is well above the energy of visible light at 2 to 3 electron volts. This coverage will enable the study of cosmic extremes across the universe.
The satellite carries two instruments called Resolve and Xtend. Resolve tracks tiny temperature variations that help determine the source, composition, motion, and physical state of X-rays. Resolve operates at minus 459.58 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 273.10 degrees Celsius), a temperature about 50 times colder than that in space thanks to a refrigerator-sized tank of liquid helium.
This instrument will help astronomers unravel cosmic mysteries, such as the chemical details of red-hot gas in galaxy clusters.
“XRISM’s Resolve instrument will allow us to look into the composition of cosmic X-ray sources on a scale never previously possible,” said Kelley. “We expect many new discoveries about the hottest objects in the Universe, including exploding stars, black holes and the galaxies they power, and galaxy clusters.”
Meanwhile, Xtend XRISM will offer one of the largest fields of view on an X-ray satellite.
“The spectra collected by XRISM will be the most detailed we have ever seen for some of the phenomena we will observe,” said Brian Williams, NASA’s XRISM project scientist at Goddard, in a statement. “The mission will provide us with insights into some of the most difficult places to study, such as the inner structures of neutron stars and near-light-speed particle jets powered by black holes in active galaxies.”
In the meantime, SLIM will fly to the moon with its own propulsion system. The spacecraft will arrive in lunar orbit about three to four months after launch, orbit the moon for a month and begin descending and attempting a soft landing four to six months after launch. If the lander is successful, the technology demonstration will also briefly examine the lunar surface.
Unlike other recent land missions targeting the moon’s south pole, SLIM is targeting a location near a small lunar impact crater called Shioli near the Nectar Sea, where the composition of the rocks will be studied, which could help scientists , to discover the origins of the moon. The landing site is south of the Sea of Tranquility where Apollo 11 landed near the lunar equator in 1969.
India became the fourth country to conduct a controlled landing on the moon, after the US, the former Soviet Union and China, when its Chandrayaan-3 mission arrived near the lunar south pole on Wednesday. Earlier, Japanese company Ispace’s Hakuto-R lunar lander plummeted 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) during a landing attempt in April before crashing onto the moon.
The SLIM probe features vision-based navigation technology. Achieving precise landings on the moon is an important goal for JAXA and other space agencies.
Even resource-rich areas like the lunar south pole and its permanently shadowed, water ice-filled regions pose a number of crater and rock hazards. Future missions must be able to land in a tight area to avoid these anomalies.
SLIM also features a lightweight design, which could be beneficial when agencies plan more frequent missions and explore moons around other planets like Mars. If SLIM is successful, JAXA claims, it will transform missions from “land where we can to land where we want.”