A groundbreaking satellite that promises to unveil the cosmos in a novel light is gearing up for launch, alongside the innovative “Moon Sniper” lunar lander, in a spectacular mission set to redefine space exploration.
Scheduled for liftoff from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is all set to initiate its XRISM mission, an abbreviation of “X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission,” marking a joint endeavor involving JAXA, NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.
Accompanying XRISM on this extraordinary journey is JAXA’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a compact yet groundbreaking exploration lander that is poised to revolutionize lunar landing capabilities. By leveraging cutting-edge high-precision landing technology, SLIM is designed to achieve a “pinpoint” landing accuracy within a mere 100 meters (328 feet), a remarkable leap compared to the traditional kilometer-range precision. This feat has earned SLIM the nickname “Moon Sniper.”
Despite experiencing a couple of weather-related delays, the XRISM and SLIM mission is now anticipated to launch aboard an H-IIA rocket, aiming for an 8:26 p.m. ET Sunday liftoff, or 9:26 a.m. Japan Standard Time on Monday.
Astrophysics enthusiasts and space aficionados worldwide won’t have to miss out on this historic moment, as JAXA plans to live-stream the event on its YouTube channel in both English and Japanese, beginning at 7:55 p.m. ET Sunday.
The central goal of the XRISM satellite, equipped with two advanced instruments, is to explore the universe’s most fiery regions, colossal structures, and objects exerting the most potent gravitational forces. By detecting X-ray light, an invisible wavelength for humans, XRISM aims to unravel the mysteries of some of the universe’s most energetic phenomena, including stellar explosions and the jet streams propelled by supermassive black holes at the heart of galaxies.
Unlike other wavelengths, X-rays possess such minuscule wavelengths that they can penetrate the curved mirrors used to capture visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light, as observed by instruments like the James Webb and Hubble space telescopes. This unique attribute prompted the development of XRISM’s intricate nested mirrors, optimized for X-ray detection. Once in orbit, XRISM will undergo a calibration phase for several months before embarking on its anticipated three-year mission duration.
While XRISM is set to redefine celestial observation, SLIM is poised to revolutionize lunar exploration. Armed with its own propulsion system, SLIM will embark on a trajectory toward the moon, reaching lunar orbit roughly three to four months post-launch. Following that, it will spend about a month orbiting the moon before commencing its descent, aiming for a gentle landing on the lunar surface four to six months after launch.
What sets SLIM apart from recent lunar lander missions is its audacious target: a site near the lunar impact crater called Shioli, positioned close to the Sea of Nectar. This strategic location will enable SLIM to study the rock composition in the vicinity, potentially offering insights into the moon’s origins. Shioli lies just south of the iconic Sea of Tranquility, the same equatorial region where Apollo 11 achieved a historic landing in 1969.
As the XRISM and SLIM mission embarks on this grand adventure, it joins the ranks of recent lunar exploration endeavors. Following the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China, India has also achieved a controlled lunar landing with its Chandrayaan-3 mission, reinforcing the global momentum in the realm of space exploration.