Japan's lunar lander and X-ray satellite launch scrubbed

Strong upper-level winds at the launch site led to a postponement less than 30 minutes before the scheduled lift-off.
Mrigakshi Dixit
XRISM spacecraft investigates the X-ray universe in this artist’s concept
XRISM spacecraft investigates the X-ray universe in this artist’s concept

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab 

NASA and JAXA’s joint X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) has been scrubbed due to inclement weather. 

The satellite was slated to launch atop an H-IIA rocket from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center on August 27. 

According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the prevalence of severe upper winds above the launch site caused the postponement less than 30 minutes before lift-off.

The space agencies are yet to announce the revised launch date and time. Reportedly, the launch had previously been postponed twice due to poor weather conditions, which would have hampered rocket lift-off.

The satellite is scheduled to operate for a duration of three years following its launch into a low-Earth orbit.

Exploring the cosmos using X-ray illumination

The main objective of the XRISM mission is to investigate the universe using X-ray emissions originating from celestial objects in distant space. This set of information would provide insights into various cosmic processes, such as how massive galaxies cluster form to the emission of high jets by the black holes. 

“Some of the things we hope to study with XRISM include the aftermath of stellar explosions and near-light-speed particle jets launched by supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies. But of course, we’re most excited about all the unexpected phenomena XRISM will discover as it observes our cosmos,” said Richard Kelley, NASA’s XRISM principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a recent official release. 

XRISM has been designed to detect X-rays with high energy ranging from 400 to 12,000 electron volts. This range could give a sneak peek into some of the universe’s hottest areas, and most massive celestial objects.

The X-ray calorimeter

The X-ray calorimeter is one of the XRISM's most distinctive instruments.

This sophisticated calorimeter will have the capacity to gather spectral data from extended entities, encompassing intergalactic gas as well as accretion disks around black holes. This distinguishes it from existing X-ray observatories, which can only capture spectra of pointlike sources like a single star.

As reported by the journal Nature, Japan has previously made endeavors to send an X-ray calorimeter into space; however, these attempts were unsuccessful due to diverse factors. The inclusion of this calorimeter in the XRISM mission marks Japan's fourth endeavor of this kind.

In 2000, Japanese researchers initially made an effort to launch the equipment; however, the satellite containing it encountered a crash shortly after liftoff. In another attempt, a calorimeter aboard the Suzaku satellite faced malfunction five years later due to the depletion of the helium intended to keep its sensors at extremely low temperatures.

Subsequently, in February 2016, the instrument was included on JAXA's Hitomi mission; unfortunately, a software malfunction caused the spacecraft to enter an uncontrolled spin and disintegrate a mere five weeks after launch, during the period when the instruments were still undergoing calibration and testing.

Calorimeters are extremely sensitive instruments. For effective data collection, the recently devised X-ray microcalorimeter's 6-by-6-pixel detector needs to be maintained at temperatures as low as minus 460 Fahrenheit (minus 270 Celsius).

This working temperature is maintained via a multistage mechanical cooling system contained within a refrigerator-sized tank of liquid helium. 

XRISM also has a wide-field X-ray imager in addition to the calorimeter. 

The XRISM satellite will share a ride with another payload on the same rocket. It will launch the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), which will test the feasibility of landing on the lunar surface at a precise spot. If everything unfolds according to the plan, this will mark JAXA's inaugural mission to achieve a lunar landing.

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