Japan Moon Probe Births 'Baby' Satellite, Snaps First Photos
A photo from Japan's Kaguya/SELENE moon probe shortly after jettisoning one of two mini-satellites. The western rim Oceanus Procellarum is clearly visible in the image, which was taken on Oct. 5 about 497 miles (800 kilometers) from the Moon.
Credit: JAXA

Almost one month after Japan's successful launch of the Kaguya lunar probe, the unmanned observatory has begun its first major activities in orbit around the moon.

In addition to snapping its first lunar images, the probe jettisoned one of two 110-pound (50-kilogram) "baby" satellites that will help create a detailed gravity map of the moon.

The separation of the miniature satellite, called Rstar, occurred on Oct. 8 at 8:36 p.m. EDT (0036 GMT Oct. 9). Mission managers expect Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kaguya to jettison its second 3.3-foot-diameter (1-meter-diameter) mini-satellite called VRAD on Oct. 14.

The 55 billion yen ($480 million) Kaguya spacecraft, formally known as the SELenological and ENgineering Explorer (SELENE), is named after a moon princess in Japanese folklore. The spacecraft successfully was launched on Sept. 14 from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan and entered lunar orbit on Oct. 5.

Kaguya will conduct detailed studies of the moon using 14 different science instruments from a height of about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the lunar surface during its mission. Japanese engineers and scientists designed the spacecraft to produce high-resolution surface and gravity maps, observe the moon's magnetic fields and even search for water ice, among other science objectives, during the one-year mission.

China plans to launch the next moon-bound spacecraft, called the Chang'e-1, by the end of the year, followed by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft in 2008.

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