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Ad ASTRO-H! H-IIA thunders to orbit with JAXA observatory

Launch of JAXA H-IIA with ALOS-2 satellite JAXA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

An H-IIA rocket lifts off from Tanegashima (Archive Photo). Photo Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

A Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA 204 (F30) rocket lifted off at 5:45 p.m. JST (03:45 a.m. EST; 08:45 GMT) from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center located off the southern coast of Japan. The flawless flight of the ASTRO-H X-ray observatory is the first of two that are planned to take place from Tanegashima this year.

The H-IIA is manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy industries and first took to the skies in 2001. Since that time, it has been used to send payloads into geostationary orbit, to the Moon, and to the planet Venus.

Developed for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) the production and management of the rocket was transferred from JAXA to Mitsubishi in April of 2007.

The H-IIA, a derivative of the H-II family of boosters, has a success rate of slightly better than 95 percent – which puts it on par with United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rockets. Also currently being fielded is the H-IIB version of the rocket which will be used to launch an HTV cargo freighter to the International Space Station later this year.

The flight had been scheduled to take place on Feb. 12, but poor weather halted those plans and pushed the launch back to today. Mission managers had until the end of the month to get the mission underway. The launch window extended for some 45 minutes. Mission managers didn’t need them – with ASTRO-H lifting off at the very start of the window.

The ASTRO-H spacecraft space-based observatory that was launched to carry out high-energy astrophysics. While the satellite was developed by JAXA, the agency is not alone in this endeavor. The European and Canadian Space Agencies, as well as NASA, have all contributed to the success of the project. The Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) has also teamed up with JAXA as part of the ASTRO-H mission.

Launch of JAXA H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center with ASTRO-H X ray observatory JAXA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

ASTRO-H lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. Image Credit: JAXA

All total, there are some 70 organizations, institutions, and agencies involved with the project.

If ASTRO-H functions as planned, its four instruments will span the energy range 0.3-600 keV, including soft X-rays, hard X-rays, and soft gamma rays.

The spacecraft will use a high resolution “Soft X-Ray Spectrometer” (SXS) as well as a soft and a hard X-ray imaging system and a Soft Gamma Ray Detector (SGRD).

ASTRO-H was also known as the NeXT for New X-ray Telescope was sent into the black to conduct research into some of the most extreme and exotic entities and processes in our universe. Targets of the investigation will be black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and the highly-charged particles associated with them.

The ASTRO-H satellite will orbit at an altitude of some 342 miles (550 kilometers) at an orbital inclination of some 31 degrees; it should complete an orbit about once every 96 minutes. ASTRO-H is considered to be a successor to the “Suzaku” (Astro-E2) mission which was launched in 2005 and which came to an end in September of 2015.

After reaching orbit, JAXA tweeted that ASTRO-H had been given a new name – “Hitomi”, which means “eye” or, more specifically, the pupil or entrance window of the eye in Japanese. According to JAXA, the name is based on a Japanese legend:

One day, many years ago, a painter was drawing four white dragons on a street. He finished drawing the dragons, but without “Hitomi”. People who looked at the painting said “why don’t you paint Hitomi, it is not complete!” The painter hesitated, but people pressured him. The painter then drew Hitomi on two of the four dragons. Immediately, these dragons came to life and flew up into the sky. The two dragons without Hitomi remained still. (Put Hitomi of Dragon in the drawing).

ASTRO-H is planned to be active for about 3 years. It weighs about 2.6 metric tons and measures some 46 feet (14 meters) in length.

As noted, the next launch currently scheduled to take place this year from Tanegashima is the October flight of an H-IIB with the HTV cargo vessel bound for the ISS.

In terms of ASTRO-H, mission planners had targeted an altitude of 575 kilometers and very nearly met their mark. When all was said and done ASTRO-H was placed into an orbit of 576.5 kilometers (at apogee).

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,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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