Japan has successfully launched a new unmanned spacecraft to explore the Moon -- the largest lunar mission since the Apollo program.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced the launch of the Lunar Orbit Explorer "KAGUYA" (SELENE) by the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 13 (H-IIA F13) at 10:31:01 a.m. on September 14, 2007 (Japan Standard Time, JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The launch vehicle flew smoothly, and, at about 45 minutes and 34 seconds after liftoff, the separation of the KAGUYA was confirmed.
The mission of the SELenological and ENgineering Explorer "KAGUYA" (SELENE), Japan’s first large lunar explorer, is being keenly anticipated by many countries.
The major objectives of the mission are to understand the Moon’s origin and evolution, and to observe the moon in various ways in order to utilize it in the future. The lunar missions that have been conducted so far have gathered a large amount of information on the Moon, but the mysteries of its origin and evolution have been left unsolved.
KAGUYA will investigate the entire moon in order to obtain information on its elemental and mineralogical composition, its geography, its surface and sub-surface structure, the remnant of its magnetic field, and its gravity field. The results are expected to lead to a better overall understanding of the Moon’s evolution.
At the same time, the observation equipment installed on the orbiting satellite will observe plasma, the electromagnetic field and high-energy particles. The data obtained in this way will be of great scientific importance for exploring the possibility of using the moon for human endeavors.
KAGUYA’s configuration and mission
KAGUYA consists of the Main Orbiter and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite). The Main Orbiter will reach the vicinity of the Moon. Once it has reached the Moon, it will be placed into a peripolar orbit at an altitude of 100 km. The Relay Satellite will be placed in an elliptic orbit at an apogee of 2400 km, and will relay communications between the Main Orbiter and the ground station. The VRAD Satellite will play a significant role in measuring the gravitational field around the Moon. The Main Orbiter will be employed for about one year and will observe the entire Moon.
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