Japan launches H-IIA sending SELENE on a journey to the moon

by Chris Bergin

Japan are heading to the moon following the launch of their SELENE (SELenological and ENgineering Explorer called “KAGUYA”) Lunar Orbiter, via a H-IIA (2022) launch vehicle from the Yoshinobu Complex at Tanegashima. Launch was on time at 9:31pm Eastern.

NASASpaceflight.com covered the launch as a live event, with background, images, live updates and a free launch video – all available on the links below (read more).


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‘We successfully launched the rocket and released the orbiter from the rocket,’ said Eriko Sunada, of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The launch vehicle flew smoothly, and, at about 45 minutes and 34 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the KAGUYA was confirmed,” JAXA added.

“We would like to express our profound appreciation for the cooperation and support of all related personnel and organizations that helped contribute to the successful launch of the KAGUYA aboard the H-IIA F13.

“At the time of the launch, the weather was clear, a wind speed was 5.9 m/second from the East South East, and the temperature was 29.8 degrees Celsius.”

More will follow…

Mission background:

The 2022 variant of the H-IIA (H2A) is a two stage liquid-fuelled vehicle, with two solid rocket boosters and two Strap-on Boosters (SSBs). This version of the H-IIA was last launched at the start of 2006, carrying the four ton Advanced Land Observation Satellite (ALOS).

The original launch date was postponed due to the replacement work of parts in the two onboard baby satellites of the ‘KAGUYA’ as announced on July 20, 2007. The replacement was successfully completed allowing for a rescheduling to September, before being refined again to the morning (Japanese time) of the 14th.

The vehicle will place SELENE into a highly elliptical earth orbit. The spacecraft will complete two orbits before propelling itself toward the Moon, with that journey to lunar polar orbit taking five days.

The mass of ‘KAGUYA’ at lift-off is approximately three metric tons including two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite), which will eventually orbit 100 km above the Moon for a one year mission. The Relay Satellite will be separated in an elliptical orbit with an apolune altitude of 2400 km, and the VRAD Satellite will be separated with an apolune altitude of 800 km.

The $272-million SELENE project is the largest lunar mission – and the most sophisticated lunar exploration mission – since the Apollo program. Under this project, a main satellite will orbit 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the moon for one year while two smaller satellites will orbit above its poles. The satellites will carry out 14 missions, including measuring the moon’s gravity and determining its origin and evolution.

‘Apollo’s principal task was to send humans to the moon, and scientific experiments were the secondary aim. We need to research (the entire moon) in detail,’ says JAXA’s Professor Seiichi Sakamoto.

‘We are trying to draw a map (of the moon) – with valuable information about what kinds of minerals exist in which areas or possible distributions of ice. Understanding the moon’s origin and evolution is linked to understanding the Earth.’

SELENE will observe the distribution of the elements and minerals on the surface, the surface and sub-surface structure, the gravity field, the remnant of the magnetic field, and the environment of energetic particles and plasma of the Moon. The scientific data will also be used for exploring the possibilities of the future utilization of the Moon.

JAXA will also establish the basic technologies for future Moon exploration, such as, lunar polar orbit insertion, 3-axis attitude control and thermal control in lunar orbit, utilizing 15 onboard instruments. The X-ray Spectrometer and the Gammaray Spectrometer will provide data on the elemental composition of the lunar surface. The Multi-band Imager and Spectral Profiler will provide data on mineralogical composition.

Data on the surface and subsurface structure, obtained by Terrain Camera, Laser Altimeter and Lunar Radar Sounder, will give key information on the tectonic history of the Moon. The lunar Magnetometer is used to determine the remnant magnetic field of the Moon.

The lunar environment will be investigated by the Charged Particle Spectrometer and Plasma Analyzer. The Upper atmosphere and Plasma Imager utilizes the unique position of the Moon for imaging the plasmasphere of the Earth.

The Relay Satellite will relay the Doppler ranging signal between the Main Orbiter and the ground station for the world’s first direct measurement of the gravity field in the farside of the Moon. The differential VLBI Radio-Sources on board the Relay Satellite and the VRAD Satellite are used to determine the gravity field of the Moon most precisely.

The radio signal from the VRAD satellite is used for detecting the tenuous lunar ionoshere. In addition, the High Definition Television System will take pictures and movies of the Earth-rise from the Moon horizon.

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