JAXA Begins Tests of H-III Engines

H-III launch vehicle variants (Credit: JAXA)

The Nikkei Asian Review reports JAXA began test firings of the LE-9 rocket engine, which will power its new H-III launch vehicle. The first round of testing will include 11 firings through June.

The new booster is set to replace the H-IIA and H-IIB launchers, which are the mainstay of Japan’s orbital rocket fleet. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and IHI are leading the development of the new two-stage launch vehicle.

H-III is designed to launch payloads at lower costs. The basic configuration can carry 4 metric tons into sun synchronous orbit.  By adding two to four strap-on boosters to the first stage, H-III will be able to lift up to 6.5 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit.

The new booster will have a base cost of about 5 billion yen ($43.9 million). The H-IIA costs an estimated 10 billion yen ($87.8), with the more powerful H-IIB costing 10 billion yen ($131.5 million).

JAXA’s goal is for the H-III to complete flight tests and enter service in March 2021.

Global Efforts to Deal with Orbital Debris

JAXA has published this Q&A interview with Michiru Nishida, a Japanese Foreign Affairs official who works on space debris debris issues.

— In light of the fact that the space debris situation is becoming more serious, what international agreements have been made, if any?

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines drafted by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). This is a “soft law” that aims to limit the generation of new space debris. A soft law is not legally binding – member states are left to make efforts on their own initiative. The guidelines specify, among other things, that rockets and satellites should be designed to produce no debris, and that satellites in low Earth orbit should re-enter the atmosphere within 25 years of ending their mission.

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Preventing Collisions Between Debris and Spacecraft


JAXA has published the following Q&A interview with  Mayumi Matsuura, the space agency’s space situation awareness (SSA) system project manager.

— What is the current state of space debris monitoring in Japan?

Kamisaibara Spaceguard Center (Credit: JAXA)

Space debris is monitored at the Kamisaibara Spaceguard Center and the Bisei Spaceguard Center, both in Okayama Prefecture. At Kamisaibara, we use radar to monitor debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) up to an altitude of approximately 2,000 km. Although the size of debris that can be monitored depends on its altitude, we can simultaneously track a total of 10 targets 1 meter or more in diameter. At Bisei, we use an optical telescope, which allows us to monitor debris in geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) at an altitude of 36,000 km.

JAXA analyzes data from these facilities to pinpoint debris orbit and position, and when this data and other inputs show that there is a possibility of debris colliding with satellites, a warning is issued to the satellite team. This is the role of the Space Tracking and Communications Center (STCC), where I work. To avoid being hit by debris, all you need to do is change your orbit, so the center prepares detailed proposals on when and how to do this. In some cases, debris is expected not to burn up on reentry into the atmosphere, but to fall back to Earth. In these situations, my job is to predict where it will reenter the atmosphere.
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Cleaning up Orbital Debris: Q&A With ASTROSCALE CEO Nobu Okada


The Japanese space agency JAXA has published the following Q&A with Nobu Okada, founder and CEO of ASTROSCALE PTE. The company is focused on cleaning up orbital debris.

— It’s been said that you are the first private enterprise in the to attempt to clean up space debris.

Our mission is to secure long-term spaceflight safely by solving space debris issues. To achieve this, ASTROSCALE will extend its business model to a debris removing technology after gaining an understanding of the present space environment. As our first step, we investigate how much space debris exist in outer space. The size of space debris varies, and it is important to ascertain its density etc.

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Japan Plans Sample Return from Martian Moons

MMX on-orbit configuration (Credit: JAXA)

Japan is planning a complex mission that will study the moons of Mars and return soil samples to Earth.

Set for launch in September 2024, the Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) mission would spend three years exploring Phobos and Deimos before departing in August 2028 for a return to Earth 11 months later.

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Mechanism Underlying Size-Sorting of Rubble on Asteroid Itokawa Revealed

Asteroid Itokawa (Credit: JAXA)

By Greta Keenan
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology

In 2005, the Hayabusa spacecraft developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) landed on Itokawa, a small near-Earth asteroid named after the famous Japanese rocket scientist Hideo Itokawa. The aim of the unmanned mission was to study the asteroid and collect a sample of material to be returned to Earth for analysis. Contrary to scientific predictions that small asteroids are barren nuggets of rock, photographs taken by the Hayabusa spacecraft revealed that the surface of Itokawa is strewn with different sized particles. Even more puzzling was the lateral separation of small and large particles – with large boulders occupying the highlands and small pebbles occupying the lowlands.

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Japan to Try Again With Microsat Launcher

JAXA SS520 sounding rocket. (Credit: JAXA)

Undaunted by a launch failure last month, JAXA has decided to try another flight of its new SS-520-4 micro-satellite booster later this year.

January’s rocket was a three-stage version of the existing two-stage SS-520, modified to carry a miniature satellite. Off-the-shelf consumer product technology was incorporated to keep costs down. The rocket blasted off successfully. But during the first stage of the launch sequence, transmission of such critical data as its temperature and position ceased. The agency aborted the second stage, letting the vehicle fall into the ocean.

After the failed launch, JAXA scrutinized data from minirocket’s communications equipment and other components, and conducted new vibration tests. It eliminated parts that could have been responsible for the failure and put in place measures to prevent a recurrence of the problems. It will report in detail on the findings of its inspections at a section meeting of the technology ministry starting Monday.

Read the full story.

Japanese Space Debris Removal Experiment Hits Snag

Electrodynamic tether deployed from cargo ship. (Credit: JAXA)

JAXA’s effort to test an electrodynamic tether (EDT) that could help clean up orbital space debris has hit a snag, Japanese media report.

The 700 meter (2,297 ft) long tether was to have deployed from the Kounotori resupply ship after it separated from the International Space Station on Jan. 27. However, JAXA says the tether, which had a mass on the end that weights about 20 kg (44 lb.), did not deploy as planned.

The agency planned to continue trying to try to deploy the tether through Saturday (today). The supply ship is scheduled to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere on Monday.

The tether is designed to slow down a piece of debris by running an electrical current through it. The current will hasten the entry of the debris into the Earth’s atmosphere.

“JAXA plans to perform Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiments (KITE) in order to establish and demonstrate EDT technology and to obtain some EDT characteristics, such as tether deployment dynamics, and electron emission and collection in space plasma,” the space agency says on its website.

“KITE will help us identify the features and key technologies necessary to design and develop an EDT system as a method for improving space safety by removing large debris,” the website states.

Japanese Smallsat Launcher Fails in Maiden Flight

The world’s smallest launch vehicle failed in its maiden launch from a Japanese spaceport on Sunday.

JAXA’s SS-520-4 booster took off from the >Uchinoura Space Center at 8:33 a.m. local time carrying the TRICOM-1 CubeSat. The space agency said although the rocket’s first stage fired normally, the second stage failed to ignite. The booster and its payload fell into the ocean.

The SS-520-4 is an upgraded version of a Japanese sounding rocket that is designed to launch micro-satellites. The three-stage booster stands only 9.5 meters (31.3 ft) tall and has a diameter of .52 meters (1.7 ft).

The TRICOM-1 spacecraft was developed by the University of Tokyo. The 3-kg (6.6 lb) CubeSat included store-and-forward communications equipment and Earth observation cameras.

The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Part 2 of 2

There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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USA, China Led World in Launches in 2016

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the OA-6 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

Part 1 of 2

The United States and China led the world in orbital launch attempts in 2016 with 22 apiece. The combined 44 launches made up more than half of the 85 flights conducted around the world.

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Private Lunar Exploration Company ispace Collaborates With JAXA on Lunar Resource Development Initiative

TOKYO (ispace PR) — ispace, inc, a private lunar robotic exploration company, announced today that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to jointly create a roadmap for lunar resource development. Under this agreement, both parties will utilize their knowledge and network to develop plans and frameworks for creating an industry around lunar resource mining, delivery and utilization.

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JAXA Takes Step Toward Lunar Mining

jaxalogoJapan has taken a first step toward developing a lunar mining industry.

Japan is leaping into space resources, agreeing to work with a robotic-exploration company to create a blueprint for an industry to extract resources from the moon that would enable more extensive space exploration.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Japan’s space agency, said Friday that it signed a memorandum of understanding with Tokyo-based ispace technologies Inc. to work on building an industry “for the mining, transport and use of resources on the moon,” according to a statement by ispace. A spokeswoman for the agency, known as JAXA, confirmed the agreement….

Ispace manages business operations for Team Hakuto, the only Japanese competitor for the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize competition. Sixteen teams are competing to land a probe on the moon, move it 500 meters, and send high-definition photos and video back to earth by the end of 2017.

Read the full story.

Japanese Cargo Vehicle Arrives at ISS with NanoRacks Payloads

HTV-6 cargo ship approaches the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
HTV-6 cargo ship approaches the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON, December 13, 2016 (NanoRacks PR) – The Japanese Space Agency JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) cargo spacecraft successfully berthed to the International Space Station (ISS) on its sixth mission on Tuesday, December 13. The berthing occurred after a four-day flight to the station following the spacecraft’s launch Friday evening local time on an H-IIB rocket from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center. The cargo ship arrived with eight NanoRacks customer payloads on board.

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