Japan gears up for dual-purpose space launch on Monday: Moon lander and X-Ray probe


Japan readies to launch a dual-purpose mission on Monday at 5:56am (IST), deploying SLIM to showcase precise moon landing techniques and XRISM for enhanced celestial analysis.

The launch countdown begins for the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) and the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) onboard the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 47.(JAXA)

Earlier delayed by weather, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in its latest updates have announced that they are now preparing to load propellants in the spacecraft.

What is the aim of the SLIM lander?

SLIM, or Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, with compact lunar probes will attempt to pinpoint landing. Called, ‘Moon Snipper’ in the Japanese language, it has lightweight equipment for advanced observations and adaptable landings on resource-scarce planets, advancing exploration strategies.

The most important aim of the lander is to demonstrate precise landing. The Japanese space agency says the landing accuracy is within 100m. The landing area of Chandrayaan 3 was set to an area of 4 km x 2.4 km.

“By creating the SLIM lander humans will make a qualitative shift towards being able to land where we want and not just where it is easy to land, as had been the case before,” says JAXA.

What are the objectives of the XRISM X-ray calorimeter?

The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) X-ray calorimeter aims to capture minuscule temperature changes and decode celestial chemical signatures. Unlike conventional observatories, XRISM seeks to study extended objects, focusing on galaxy evolution and black hole interactions.

XRISM launch marks the fourth attempt

XRISM marks Japan’s fourth venture into X-ray calorimetry in space. The initial attempt, in 2000, ended in a satellite crash post-launch. Subsequently, a Suzaku probe’s calorimeter failed due to helium loss, impairing its sensors.

In 2016, JAXA launched ASTRO-H, later named Hitomi. Mere weeks later, a software glitch disrupted the mission, causing a loss of control and fragmentation.

Learning from past challenges, XRISM streamlines its payload. The project forgoes Hitomi’s second ‘hard’ X-ray telescope, notes a research paper recently published in Nature. It adds that the mission decided to focus on lower-energy, ‘soft’ X-rays, and in particular on the calorimeter, which was the feature that the astronomy community needed most urgently.

“The Earth’s atmosphere blocks X-rays, so the only way for astronomers to see this part of the electromagnetic spectrum is to go into space, and XRISM’s capabilities will be unique until ESA launches its Athena space observatory — carrying a more sophisticated version of the calorimeter — in 2035,” the paper adds.


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