Japan Launches ASTRO-H X-Ray Observatory “Hitomi”


Overnight Japan lofted the ASTRO-H X-Ray Observatory into Low Earth Orbit. As is the custom, the spacecraft was given an additional name, “Hitomi” to go along with the formal designation.  Hitomi literally means the pupil of the eye, or aperture, in Japanese, but also connotes a broader meaning of the wisdom or insight which can come from a deep gaze. Given the spacecraft’s ambitious objectives, the choice may be particularly appropriate.

JAXA Press Release:

Launch Success of H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 30 with X-ray Astronomy Satellite (ASTRO-H) Onboard

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 30 (H-IIA F30) with the X-ray Astronomy Satellite (ASTRO-H) onboard at 5:45 p.m. on February 17, 2016 (Japan Standard Time, JST) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The launch vehicle flew as planned, and at approximately 14 minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff, the separation of ASTRO-H was confirmed.

The success marked the 30th milestone launch of the H-IIA, and the launch success rate reached almost 97%. In addition, the last 10 launches lifted off on time (except for some launch delays due to weather factors), and that has proved the high reliability and quality of the H-IIA Launch Vehicle. We can and will respond to demands of launch service users with confidence and high reliability.

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 H-IIA F30.

About Astro-H (From JAXA)

Insight into the Hot Universe—The new generation X-ray astronomy satellite

Astro-H, "Hitomi" Credit JAXA

Astro-H, “Hitomi”
Credit JAXA

The universe appears to be cold and peaceful, but seen in X-ray, outer space is filled with turbulence in the form of explosions, collisions, and outbursts. For the purpose of advancing astronomical observations in X-rays, the next generation X-ray observatory ASTRO-H was developed from an international collaboration including Japan and NASA. The cutting edge instrument on board is the “X-ray micro-calorimeter,” which observes X-rays from space with the world’s greatest spectral capability. The other 3 detectors on board allow high sensitivity observations in a wide bandwidth spanning soft X-ray to the softest Gamma-ray. ASTRO-H will apply these new functions to investigate the mechanisms of how galaxy clusters—the largest objects in space made of “visible matter”—formed and influenced by dark energy and dark matter, to reveal the formation and evolution of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies, and to unearth the physical laws governing extreme conditions in neutron stars and black holes.


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