September 14, 2007 dawned clear and dry at Japan's spaceport on Tanegashima Island, just off the country's southern coast - perfect weather for a rocket launch. The launch itself, coming at 10:30am local time was equally perfect. Onlookers at the scene and watching on television were thrilled to watch the gleaming Mitsubishi H-IIA rocket practically leap off its pad and ride into the bright blue sky on a pillar of flame. Gracefully heeling over and arcing into thin clouds over the Pacific, the H-IIA shed its solid rocket boosters right on schedule and continued on into Earth orbit.
Check out the final countdown and fiery launch here:
SELENE will orbit the Earth twice before setting off on a 5-day trip to our nearest neighbor. Though delayed several times by mechanical difficulties, the SELENE probe is now well on its way to completing not only Japan's most ambitious moon mission, but one of the most complex since the American Apollo program.
The probe, nicknamed "Kaguya" after a mythical moon princess from a traditional Japanese folktale, weighs approximately 3 tons. Aboard are two mini-satellites which will be ejected into orbit once the main orbiter reaches the moon.
After settling into a tight orbit just 60 miles from the moon's surface, the probe will begin deploying 14 different instruments that will map and analyze the moon's surface, interior and gravitational field. Most exciting for those of us at home, the probe is fitted with a powerful high-definition camera that will record both still and video images of an Earthrise over the surface of the moon. Should be quite popular once it hits YouTube!
For fans of space flight, programs like SELENE are long overdue from Japan, a nation renowned for its prowess in the fields of robotics, electronics and telecommunications. With China planning its own moon shot (the Chang'e-1 lunar orbiter) later this year and even India getting in on the action in 2008 with its Chandrayaan-1 probe, the time is right for Japan to flex her considerable technological muscle! (via JAXA and space.com)
Japanese Innovations Writer