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It seems like the whole world is trying to get a piece of space lately. India just pulled off its first lunar mission last month, and both China and the US are preparing to send humans back to the moon’s surface.
On Thursday morning, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched a giant X-ray vision-enabled telescope satellite into space from its southern island of Tanegashima. A robotic lunar lander was also along for the ride out of our world, both aboard the H-IIA rocket. These two missions – XRISM and SLIM – quickly parted ways after leaving the atmosphere.
The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite is a team effort project from JAXA, NASA and the European Space Agency. It’s supposed to collect info and data about the universe’s plasma winds, which scientists think will help us figure out how stars and galaxies evolve. XRISM will get up close and personal with the flow of energy between space objects. Stations in Japan and Hawaii can communicate with it.
Even though these missions are going so far, so good, this is actually the second time that JAXA has tried to launch this type of X-ray satellite. In 2016, the Hitomi mission failed, and the telescope was lost to outer space within weeks of its send-off. “It was a devastating loss,” said Brian J. Williams, an astrophysicist at NASA who was on the Hitomi team and is now part of the XRISM project. “We realized that we really had to go and build this mission again because this is the future of X-ray astronomy.”
With the Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon (SLIM) lunar lander mission happening at the same time, JAXA has a lot on its plate. The lander has been referred to as a “moon sniper” because it’s been designed to make a “pinpoint” landing within 100 meters of a specific place. Usually, the range is calculated in kilometers, so this is a new development in space tech for sure. It hasn’t reached the moon yet, but we’re crossing our fingers for a smooth arrival.
"The big objective of SLIM is to prove the high-accuracy landing ... to achieve 'landing where we want' on the lunar surface, rather than 'landing where we can'," JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said at a news conference.