XRISM Space Observation Satellite to Launch Monday

Courtesy of JAXA
The XRISM satellite is displayed at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s latest X-ray space observation satellite will be onboard the H2A No. 47 Launch Vehicle when it takes off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture on Monday.

The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) marks a major step forward for Japan’s satellite program. JAXA personnel have been eagerly awaiting the launch of the new satellite since the Hitomi X-ray astronomical satellite, XRISM’s predecessor, broke up after spinning out of control while in orbit in 2016, two months after launch.

About 8 meters long and weighing about 2.3 tons, XRISM will be part of a payload that also includes JAXA’s SLIM lunar lander.

Jointly developed by JAXA, NASA and other entities, XRISM features two X-ray telescopes that will be used to shed light on the structure of galaxy clusters and gas emitted from black holes, among other things.

Takashi Okajima, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was in charge of developing mirrors that reflect and focus X-rays for both the Hitomi and XRISM projects.

When contact with Hitomi was lost, “My mind went totally blank,” recalled Okajima, 49. JAXA had to abandon observations with the satellite before operations had fully started.

Okajima, who got involved with XRISM soon after the failure of the Hitomi project, has high expectations for the upcoming mission. “This time around, I want the satellite to capture X-rays and properly fulfill its role,” he said.

XRISM features technology to prevent abnormal rotation to avoid a repeat of the problem that brought Hitomi’s mission to a premature end.

The new satellite will start making observations about three months after launch, after completing a series of calibrations and tests, and JAXA has invited observation proposals for XRISM from researchers around the world.

“There have been many difficulties, but we’ve finally reached this point,” said JAXA Project Manager Hironori Maejima. “I hope the satellite operates without a hitch.”

The H2A rocket is scheduled to take off at 9:26 a.m. Monday. The launch was originally scheduled to happen on Saturday but it was moved back two days due to poor weather conditions.

A large JAXA rocket has not taken off since the failed maiden launch of its new H3 rocket in March.

JAXA has taken steps to prevent a recurrence of the failed launch in March by closely checking parts that are used both in H3 and H2A rockets.