New HTV-X Resupply Ship to Be More Capable, Affordable

HTV-X cargo ship. (Credit; JAXA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On May 21, a Japanese H-IIB rocket roared off the launch pad with the ninth and final H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) (Kounotori) resupply ship to the International Space Station (ISS).

But, the launch was not the end of the line for Japanese cargo delivery. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is developing an improved variant known as HTV-X to supply the space station and possibly the lunar Gateway.

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World’s First Publicly Accessible “Space Avatar” Launched to Space Station

Space Avatar Experience (Credit: avatarin/Clouds Architecture Office)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) – ANA HOLDINGS INC. (hereafter “ANAHD”), avatarin Inc. of the ANA Group (hereafter “avatarin”), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (hereafter “JAXA”) have announced a new project on the International Space Station(ISS) to release the world’s first space avatar1 experience.

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Astroscale Opens Series E Funding Round, Secures First Investor

TOKYO (Astroscale PR) — Astroscale Holdings Inc., a market-leader in developing technology and services to remove space debris and secure long-term orbital sustainability, announced on 18 May 2020 that it has opened a Series E funding round and has secured I-NET CORP., a leading Japanese data center provider, as its first investor for an undisclosed amount.

The additional financing will be used to broaden Astroscale’s current business services and achieve the company’s mission of securing a sustainable orbital environment.

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Japan Launches Resupply Ship to International Space Station

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — At exactly 31 minutes and 00 seconds past 2 o’clock on the morning of May 21, 2020, the H-II Transfer Vehicle known as “KOUNOTORI9” (HTV9), the cargo transporter to the International Space Station (ISS), was launched aboard H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 9 (H-IIB F9) from the JAXA Tanegashima Space Center.

The H-IIB F9 flight proceeded nominally. Approximately 15 minutes and 7 seconds after launch, the payload separated from the launch vehicle as planned.

JAXA expresses its sincere appreciation for the support provided by all involved.

New European Drawer Rack Set for Space Station

Image of Europe’s space laboratory Columbus taken by ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano from outside the International Space Station. (Credit: ESA–L. Parmitano, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

PARIS (ESA PR) — When the Japanese HTV-9 cargo vehicle launches to the International Space Station on 20 May it will carry a part of Europe in its pressurised module. The second iteration of the European Drawer Rack (EDR-2) is destined for the European Columbus laboratory and will provide even greater opportunities for science in space.

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A Sunburned Ryugu: Asteroid Surface Weathered by the Sun

Artificial crater on asteroid Ryugu (Credit: JAXA, University of Tokyo, Kochi University, Rikkyo University, Nagoya University, Chiba Institute of Technology, Meiji University, University of Aizu, AIST)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — New information about the surface and orbit of Ryugu has been uncovered from analyzing data obtained during touchdown and the global observations performed by the asteroid explorer, Hayabusa2. These findings have been published in the electronic version of the US scientific journal Science, on May 7, 2020 (May 8, JST: Morota et al, 2002). The paper was led by Associate Professor Tomokatsu Morota from the University of Tokyo and member of the Hayabusa2 science team.

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NASA TV to Air Launch, Capture of Cargo Ship to International Space Station

The H-II Transfer Vehicle-8 (HTV-8) from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is pictured in the grip of the Canadarm2 robotic arm before it was attached to the International Space Station’s Harmony module. The orbiting complex was soaring 259 miles above the African nation of Cameroon just after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA will broadcast the launch of a Japanese cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station beginning at 1 p.m. EDT Wednesday, May 20, live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are scheduled to launch the unpiloted H-II Transport Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) on a Japanese H-IIB rocket at 1:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. Thursday, May 21, Japan time) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

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Hayabusa2 Fires Ion Engine During Trip Home

In December 2020, the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft will return to Earth and, before entering the Earth’s atmosphere (during which it will burn up), will release a sealed capsule containing samples from two different locations on asteroid Ryugu, which, slowed down by the Earth’s atmosphere and a parachute, will land in Australia. (Credit: DLR)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — The 2nd ion engine operation has begun. This is an important operation in the return journey of Hayabusa2 back to Earth. On May 12, 2020, the ion engine ignited at 07:00 (onboard time, JST) and was confirmed to be operating stably at 07:25 (ground time, JST).

Currently, only a single ion engine is operating as the spacecraft is far from the Sun, and receives a low level of solar power with which to operate the ion engines.

Schematic diagram of the Earth return orbit for Hayabusa2 and operations. (Credit: JAXA)

The 2nd ion engine operation will continue until around September this year. At the end of the operation, the spacecraft will be in an orbit that can deliver the capsule to Earth. After that—from October this year—we will perform precision guidance using the chemical thrusters (figure 1).

It is now only a short time before we return to Earth.

BepiColombo Takes Last Snaps of Earth en route to Mercury

A sequence of images taken by the MCAM selfie cameras on board of the European-Japanese Mercury mission BepiColombo as it neared Earth ahead of its gravity-assist flyby manoeuvre in April 2020. Images in the sequence were taken in 10-minute intervals from 11:25 UTC until 21:04 UTC on 9 April 2020, less than a day before the closest approach. (Credit: ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission completed its first flyby on 10 April, as the spacecraft came less than 12 700 km from Earth’s surface at 06:25 CEST, steering its trajectory towards the final destination, Mercury. Images gathered just before closest approach portray our planet shining through darkness, during one of humankind’s most challenging times in recent history.

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NASA Adds Shannon Walker to First Operational Crewed SpaceX Mission

Shannon Walker looking out of the international space station’s cupola at the Caribbean view beneath on November 25, 2010. (Credits: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — NASA has assigned astronaut Shannon Walker to the first operational crewed flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.

Walker will join NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover Jr., as well as Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for a six-month expedition aboard the unique space laboratory.

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Asteroid Ryugu Likely Link in Planetary Formation

Formation scenario for Ryugu. More than one year ago, the Japanese Hayabusa2 orbiter deployed the German lander, MASCOT, which investigated the approximately one-kilometre-diameter asteroid Ryugu. Scientists are now imagining the history of its formation 4.5 billion years ago. First, flakes and grains of dust formed in the disc of dust and gas rotating around the Sun (1), before porous planetesimals agglomerated due to the accretion of these loose flakes (2). Recent investigations suggest that Ryugu’s parent body hardly condensed and was also highly porous. This may have resulted in the formation of a firmer core, but scientists also believe that a gradual increase in density towards the centre of the parent body is conceivable (3). Impacts and collisions with other asteroids (4) led to a fragmentation of the parent body; the large boulders on Ryugu probably originated here. Part of the debris was then the source material for the accretion of Ryugu (5), with porous blocks and loose material, and also some more compact blocks of higher density from the original core, some of which remain on the surface. Ryugu‘s present diamondlike shape (6) occurred over time due to its rotation. (Credit: Okada et al. Nature 2020)
  • Infrared images show that Ryugu is almost entirely made up.
  • The asteroid was formed largely from fragments of a parent body that was shattered by impacts of highly porous material.
  • DLR scientists participate in the publication in the scientific journal Nature.

COLOGNE, Germany (DLR PR) — The Solar System formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago. Numerous fragments that bear witness to this early era orbit the Sun as asteroids. Around three-quarters of these are carbon-rich C-type asteroids, such as 162173 Ryugu, which was the target of the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission in 2018 and 2019. The spacecraft is currently on its return flight to Earth.

Numerous scientists, including planetary researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), intensively studied this cosmic ‘rubble pile’, which is almost one kilometre in diameter and can come close to Earth. Infrared images acquired by Hayabusa2 have now been published in the scientific journal Nature. They show that the asteroid consists almost entirely of highly porous material.

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NASA Selects First Science Instruments to Send to Gateway

Gateway with Orion over the Moon (Credit: ESA/NASA/ATG Medialab)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected the first two scientific investigations to fly aboard the Gateway, an orbital outpost which will support Artemis lunar operations while demonstrating the technologies necessary to conduct a historic human mission to Mars. The instruments selected for Gateway will observe space weather and monitor the Sun’s radiation environment.

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Japan’s Martian Moons Mission Gets Go Ahead

Artist impression of the MMX spacecraft. (Credit: JAXA)

Martian Moons EXploration (MMX) mission to explore moons, return soil sample from Phobos.

TOKYO (JAXA Program Update) — This week (19 February 2020), the MMX mission transitioned to become a JAXA Project: an official step in mission development authorised by the Japanese government. The mission was previously in the Pre-Project phase, where the focus was on research and analysis, such as simulating landings to improve spacecraft design. The focus will now move onto the development of mission hardware and software.

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JAXA Eyes Phobos Landing, Sample Return

Martian moon Phobos

The Asahi Shimbun reports on a proposal for a sample return mission to Mars’ moon Phobos.

JAXA officials submitted a plan to the science ministry on Feb. 19 that calls for the probe to attempt a landing on Phobos to collect rocks and sand.

The probe will use similar technology installed on the Hayabusa 2 probe, which allowed JAXA to collect and retrieve samples from the asteroid Ryugu in 2019.

Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to release a capsule containing those samples above Australia at the end of this year.

A new H-3 rocket will be used to launch the exploration plan dubbed MMX in September 2024.

How ISS is Helping Pave the Way for the Moon

The moon from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (NASA PR) — The International Space Station is a stepping stone for NASA’s Artemis  program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. As the only place for conducting long-duration research on how living in microgravity affects living organisms, especially humans, as well as testing technologies to allow humans to work at the Moon, the space station serves as a unique asset in the effort establish a sustainable presence at the Moon.

Missions to the Moon will include a combination of time aboard the  Gateway, on the lunar surface, and in multiple spacecraft including Orion and the human landing system. The skills and technologies developed to explore the Moon will help build the capabilities needed for future missions to Mars. Here are some of the ways this orbiting laboratory is contributing to the path forward to the Moon and Mars.

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