The mysterious Japanese duo XRISM

14 Nov 2023

JAXA, the Japanese space agency is one of the most secretive space agencies on our planet. Even the proverbial Russian or Chinese “silence” is nowhere near the “silence” of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Finding out the details of their space missions, even with considerable personal acquaintance with “professional insiders” around the world, is almost an impossible mission.

What did the Japanese throw our way these days?

Early in the morning, on September 7 this year, the H-IIA 202 rocket, a product of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a company better known to us from the automotive world, took off from the Tanegashima Space Center launch pad. Three tons of cargo were on top of the rocket, two very interesting technical artifacts.

The first is SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon), in nature a lander whose role is to land precisely like a “sniper” on the surface of the Moon. After landing, they will eject two rovers, without wheels.

The larger rover (LEV 1) is more like a grasshopper that aims to bounce on the regolith, and the smaller rover (LEV 2) in the shape of a sphere, which has half-opening halves and pretend wheels, will roll in the sand that Apollo-era astronauts described as something most similar to the smell of gunpowder.

SLIM got the nickname “Sniper” because the landing has to happen with a maximum error of 100m in relation to the desired landing point. The aforementioned Apollo missions landed in the area of the ellipse with margins of 5x20km!

The landing is planned for January or February next year, the spacecraft is now in good condition and slowly traveling towards the Moon. It is a machine weighing 590 kg with a quite elegant design. Part of this mission originates from the GLXP competition!

The main task of SLIM is to test new autonomous landing technologies in practice, as well as an innovative approach to moon landing itself, landing on its side and then straightening up. Sensors and computers will recognize and autonomously select a microlocation within 100m of the given landing point.

The second artifact is much more massive and larger. XRISM (X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission) is intended for astronomical research with special telescopes in the X-radio region. It is a replacement, an upgrade, for the 2016 lost HITOMI telescope.

The weight of the XRISM is 2,300 k. It will orbit the Earth in a circular orbit with a height of 550 km. It will spend several weeks in research-experimental mode, and then at least three years exploring the secrets of the universe in the primary part of the mission.

After that, it will work with another instrument for another four to five years. Such research is not possible from the Earth’s surface, and the very technology of making astronomical instruments that can see the “invisible” is very complex and, above all, expensive.

XRISM has the task of seeing the early structures of the universe, discovering the circulation of material during the evolution of stars and galaxies. The future EU telescope ATHENA will be based on Japanese experiences.

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