Japan's lunar probe performing 'smoothly' after successful launch

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007 File:SELENE.jpg

Artist's impression of SELENE spacecraft
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

An H-IIA rocket, carrying the SELENE lunar orbiter and several smaller satellites, was launched on Friday, September 14 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.

The launch, conducted at 01:31 GMT by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), begins the voyage of SELENE to the Moon, and Japanese space officials say that the mission has been going smoothly.

"The flight has been proceeding smoothly to this point. We haven't had any reports of problems with any of the equipment," said JAXA spokesman Seiji Toyama who also added that the probe is about to finish its first of two orbits around Earth.

SELENE will be placed in orbit 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the Moon's surface where two smaller probes will be released and then begin to orbit the Moon at both poles. Scientists are hoping that the data will shed more light on how the Moon was formed, and how it has evolved through time. They also hope to study the composition of dust samples from the surface and are planning on taking 3-D images of the Moon's surface.

JAXA was forced to delay the launch by one day, with the launch originally scheduled to occur on September 13.