Spaceflight Insider

ISAS, JAXA to reveal the secrets of the universe with ASTRO-H

ASTRO H space telescope JAXA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

ASTRO-H. Image Credit: JAXA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) have the ASTRO-H (or NeXT for New X-ray Telescope as it is also known) space-based observatory ready for launch atop a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA 204 rocket. Liftoff of the rocket will take place from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center located off the Coast of the Southern Japanese mainland.

ASTRO-H has four primary scientific instruments which are touted as providing the “highest energy resolution ever achieved” in the E = 3-10 keV band.

H_IIA_No._F23_with_GPM_on_its_way_to_the_launchpad photo credit NASA Bill Ingalls

An H-IIA at the launch pad at Tanegashima. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

ASTRO-H has been designed so as to extend the research capabilities of the Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics (ASCA), specifically in what is known as the hard X-Ray band above 10 keV.

In more general terms, it is hoped that the observatory will help to unravel key aspects concerning the formation, structure, and evolution of the universe. The following instruments are planned to fly on the spacecraft:

  • Hard X-ray Telescope (HXT)
  • Soft X-ray Telescope (SXT-S, SXT-I)
  • Hard X-ray Imager (HXI)
  • Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS)
  • Soft X-ray Imager (SXI)
  • Soft Gamma-ray Detector (SGD)

Some of the other aspects the spacecraft will investigate include the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters and the physical conditions in sites of cosmic-ray acceleration.

If everything goes as advertised with tomorrow’s launch, the ASTRO-H spacecraft should arrive in low-Earth orbit, after being sent into the blackness of space, about 357 miles (575 kilometers) above our world. The mission is designed so as to have ASTRO-H conduct a circular orbit at 31 degrees; it should carry out an orbit about once every 96 minutes.

As is the case with so many of the scientific payloads that are launched to orbital destinations and beyond, ASTRO-H is a collaborative effort by the United States, Canada, and Europe, with each adding elements to the mission. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is working with JAXA on the SXS instrument and Soft X-ray Telescopes.

Other pieces of both hardware and software have also been contributed by Stanford University, SRON, Université de Genève, CEA/DSM/IRFU, Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as well as the European Space Agency (ESA). In total, some 70 organizations and institutions have collaborated on the project.

Tomorrow’s launch window is slated to open at 5:45 p.m. JST and it will extend some 45 minutes. If everything goes as planned, this will be the first of only two flights to take to the skies above the Tanegashima Space Center this year.

Video courtesy of JAXA

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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