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JAXA is Japan's national aerospace agency.

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JAXA was formed on October 1, 2003 through the merger of three previously independent organizations. JAXA is responsible for research, development and launch of satellites into orbit, and is involved in many missions such as asteroid exploration and a possible manned mission to the Moon. JAXA is also known as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

History of JAXA.

JAXA Kibo, the largest module for the International Space Station.

On October 1, 2003, three organizations were merged to form the new JAXA: Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (or ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), and Japan's National Space Development Agency (NASDA).

Before the merger, ISAS was responsible for space and planetary research, while NAL was focused on aviation research. NASDA, which was founded on October 1, 1969, had developed rockets, satellites, and also built the Japanese Experiment Module, which is a part of the International Space Station. The old NASDA headquarters were located at the current site of the Tanegashima Space Center, on Tanegashima Island, 115 kilometers south of Kyushu. NASDA also trained Japanese astronauts, who flew with the US space shuttles.

JAXA rockets.

JAXA logo.

JAXA uses the H-IIA (H "two" A) rocket from the former NASDA body to launch engineering test satellites, weather satellites, etc. For science missions like X-ray astronomy, JAXA has been using the M-V solid-fueled rocket from the former ISAS. Additionally, JAXA is developing together with IHI, Lockheed Martin, and Galaxy Express Corporation (GALEX), the GX rocket. The GX will be the first rocket world wide to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the propellant.

Success so far of JAXA.

Prior to the establishment of JAXA, ISAS had been most successful in its space program in the field of X-ray astronomy during the 1980s and 90s. Another successful area for Japan has been Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) with the HALCA mission. Additional success was achieved with solar observation and research of the magnetosphere, among other areas.

NASDA was mostly active in the field of communication satellite technology. However, since the satellite market of Japan is completely open, the first time a Japanese company won a contract for a civilian communication satellite was only in 2005. Another prime focus of the NASDA body is Earth climate observation.

Launch development and missions of JAXA. Early H-IIA JAXA missions.

Japan's first space mission under JAXA, an H-IIA rocket launch on November 29, 2003, ended in failure due to stress problems. After a 15 month hiatus, JAXA performed a successful launch of an H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center, placing a satellite into orbit on February 26, 2005.

JAXA Hayabusa mission.

On May 9, 2003, Hayabusa (meaning, Peregrine falcon), was launched from an M-V rocket. The goal of this mission is to collect samples from an asteroid. The craft was scheduled to rendezvous in November of 2005, and return to Earth with samples from the asteroid by July of 2007. It was confirmed that the spacecraft successfully landed on the asteroid on November 20, 2005, after some initial confusion regarding the incoming data. On November 26, 2005, Hayabusa succeeded in making a soft contact, but whether it gathered the samples or not is unknown.

Solar sail research by JAXA.

On August 9, 2004, ISAS successfully deployed two prototype solar sails from a sounding rocket. A clover type sail was deployed at 122 km altitude and a fan type sail was deployed at 169 km altitude. Both sails used 7.5 micrometer thick film.

ISAS tested a solar sail again as a sub payload to the Astro-F (Akari) mission on February 22, 2006. However the solar sail did not deploy fully. ISAS tested a solar sail again as a sub payload of the Solar-B launch at September 23 2006, but contact with the probe was lost. The goal is to have a solar sail mission to Jupiter after 2010.

Infrared astronomy from JAXA.

Japan's first infrared astronomy mission was the 15 cm IRTS telescope which was part of the SFU multipurpose satellite in 1995. IRTS scanned during its one month lifetime around 7% of the sky.

The Akari spacecraft, with the pre-launch designation ASTRO-F, was launched on 21 February 2006. Its mission is Infrared astronomy. This is the first all sky survey since the first infrared mission IRAS in 1983. A 3.6 kg nanosatellite named CUTE-1.7 was also released from the same launch vehicle.

JAXA is also doing further R&D for increasing the performance of its mechanical coolers for its future infared mission SPICA. This would enable a warm launch without liquid helium.

JAXA X-ray astronomy.

On July 10, 2005, JAXA launched a new X-ray astronomy mission named ASTRO-E II (Suzaku). This launch was important for JAXA, because in the five years since the launch failure of the original ASTRO-E satellite, Japan was without an X-ray telescope. Three instruments were included in this satellite: an X-ray spectrometer (XRS), an X-ray imaging spectrometer (XIS), and a hard X-ray detector (HXD). However, the XRS was rendered inoperable due to a malfunction which caused the satellite to lose its supply of liquid helium.

JAXA Solar astronomy.

The Hinode (Solar-B) spacecraft, the follow-on to the Japan/US/UK Yohkoh (Solar-A) spacecraft, was launched on 23 September 2006.


On October 14 Jaxa launched the LDREX-2 on the european Ariane 5 to test the deployment mechanism for the antenna of the ETS-VIII.

Launch of the ETS-VIII will be in mid-December 2006.


On August 24, 2005, JAXA launched the experimental satellites OICETS and INDEX with the Dnipro launch vehicle. OICETS mission is to test optical links with the European Space Agency (ESA) satellite ARTEMIS, which is around 40,000 km away from OICETS. The experiment was successful on December 9, when the link could be established. In March 2006 Jaxa could establish with OICETS the worldwide first optical links between a LEO satellite and a ground station first in Japan and in June 2006 with a mobile station in Germany.

INDEX is a small 70 kg satellite for testing various equipment and for a small aurora observation mission. Whole mission time is around 3 months. INDEX seems to be successful, too.

JAXA Earth observation programme.

In January 2006, JAXA successfully launched the Advanced Land Observation Satellite (ALOS/Daichi). Communication between ALOS and the ground station in Japan will be done through the Kodama Data Relay Satellite, which was launched during 2002. This project is under intense pressure due to the shorter than expected life time of the ADEOS II (Midori) Earth Observation Mission.

Next funded earth observation mission is the GCOM earth observation programm as a successor to ADEOS II (Midori). To reduce the risk and for a longer observation time the mission will be split into smaller satellites. Altogether GCOM will be a series of six satellites. First launch, GCOM-W is scheduled for 2010 with the H-2A.

Multi use satellites by JAXA.

For weather observation Japan launched on February 2005 the Multi-Functional Transport Satellite 1R (MTSAT-1R). The success of this launch was critical for Japan, since the original MTSAT-1 couldn't be put into orbit because of a launch failure with the H-2 rocket in 1999. Since then Japan relied for weather forcasting on an old satellite which was already beyond his useful life term and on American systems. On February 18, 2006, JAXA successfully launched the MTSAT-2 aboard a H-IIA rocket. MTSAT-2 is the backup to the MTSAT-1R. The MTSAT-2 uses the DS-2000 satellite bus developed by Mitsubishi Electric. The DS-2000 is also used for the DRTS Kodama, ETS-VIII and the Superbird 7 communication satellite, making it the first commercial success for Japan.

As a secondary mission both the MTSAT-1R and MTSAT-2 help to direct air traffic.

Other JAXA satellites currently in use.

  • Exos-D (Akebono) Aurora Observation, since 1989.
  • GEOTAIL magnetosphere observation satellite (since 1992).
  • DRTS (Kodama) Data Relay Satellite, since 2002. (Projected Life Span is 7 years).
  • Micro Lab Sat 1, Small engineering mission, since 2002. (retired 27 September 2006).

On going joint missions with NASA are the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), the Aqua Earth Observation Satellite.

Future missions of JAXA.

As JAXA shifted away from international efforts beginning in 2005, plans are developing for independent space missions, such as a proposed manned mission to the Moon.

JAXA 2006.

Two Information Gathering Satellites (IGS) are planned for deployment in fiscal year 2006.

The Engineering Test Satellite VIII (ETS-VII) will be launched to test faster mobile phone communication.

JAXA 2007.

In early 2007, Japan plans to launch its third pair of IGS. The launch of the long-delayed moon mission SELENE is planned for the summer. The status of JAXA's other moon mission, LUNAR-A, is still unclear. Also in the same year Jaxa plans to launch the long delayed WINDS communication satellite whose mission is to give Japan faster internet connections.

JAXA 2008 and beyond. JAXA plans to field its new H-IIB rocket in 2008.

The satellite GOSAT (Greenhouse Gas Observing SATellite) is to be launched to help scientists determine and monitor the density distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The satellite is being jointly developed by JAXA and Japan's Ministry of the Environment. JAXA is building the satellite while the Ministry is in charge of the data that will be collected. Since the number of ground-based carbon dioxide observatories cannot monitor enough of the world's atmosphere and are distributed unevenly throughout the globe, the GOSAT may be able to gather more accurate data and fill in the gaps on the globe where there are no observatories on the ground. Sensors for methane and other greenhouse gasses are also being considered for the satellite, although the plans are not yet finalized. The satellite weighs approximately 1650kg and is expected to have a life span of 5 years.

Another project is the Global Precipitation Measurement/Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (GPM/DPR) which is a joint development with NASA. This mission is the successor to the highly successful TRMM mission. JAXA will develop the radar and provide the launch vehicle. Other countries/agencies like China, India, ESA etc. will provide the subsatellites. The aim of this mission is to measure global rainfall. However because of NASA budget limitations this project was pushed back to 2010.

In the year 2009 JAXA plans to launch the first satellite of the Quasi Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), a subsystem of the global positioning system (GPS). Two others are expected to follow later. If successful, one satellite will be in a zenith position over Japan full time. The QZSS mission is the last scheduled major independent mission for JAXA, as no major civilian projects were funded after that for now. The only exception is the IGS programme which will be continued beyond 2008. However it seems Japan is pressing forward now with the GCOM earth observation satellites as successors to the ADEOS missions. First launch is planned for 2010. In 2009 Japan also plans to launch a new version of the IGS with an improved resolution of 60 cm.

JAXA funded missions after 2008.

  • GOSAT greenhouse gas observation, 2008.
  • Quasi Zenith Satellite System, 2009 or later.
  • GCOM-W, Climate Observation satellite, launch: Feb, 2011.
  • PLANET-C, probe to Venus, launch: May,2010.
  • ASTRO-G (VSOP-2) successor to the Halca mission, launch: Feb, 2012 (late FY 2011).
  • GPM, successor to the TRMM joint Nasa mission, launch: 2010-2013.
  • BepiColombo, joint ESA mission to Mercury, launch: 2013.
  • XEUS joint X-Ray telescope with ESA, launch after 2015.

For the 2012 ESA EarthCare mission, JAXA will provide the radar system on the satellite. JAXA is also providing the Light Particle Telescope(LPT) for the 2008 Jason 2 satellite by the french CNES.

New orientation of JAXA.

Developing a space science mission like ASTRO-E can take up to 7 years and longer. The problem is, for gaining knowledge in astronomy it is necessary to study cosmic "special events." However because of the long development period of bigger space science mission, there can be long bleak periods in observation, missing opportunities. To prevent this JAXA is planning to use more small scale missions starting from 2010, too. For launching these smaller missions JAXA is also planning to develop a new solid fueled rocket to replace the M-V.

JAXA proposals for future missions.

  • ALOS 2, earth observation.
  • NeXT, a new X-ray astronomy mission.
  • SPICA, a 3,5 meter infrared telescope to be placed at L2.
  • Selene-2, a moon landing mission.
  • A solar sail mission to Jupiter.
  • JASMINE, infared telescope for measuring the universe.
  • DIOS, small scale x-ray observation.
  • Hayabusa 2, for launch in 2010-2011.
  • Hayabusa Mark 2.

JAXA manned space program.

Japan has not yet developed its own manned spacecraft. The first Japanese to be sent into space was cosmonaut Toyohiro Akiyama, a journalist sponsored by TBS, who flew on the Soviet Soyuz TM-11 in December 1990. He spent more than 7 days in space in the Mir Space station, in what the Soviets called their first commercial spaceflight which allowed them to earn $14 million.

The first professional Japanese astronaut of the NASDA was Mamoru Mohri in 1992 who flew his first space mission aboard the STS-47 mission.

Under a new plan, JAXA has set a goal of constructing a manned lunar base in 2030. Astronauts would be sent to the Moon by around 2020 so that they will start construction of the base to be completed by 2030.

JAXA supersonic aircraft development.

Besides the H-IIA and M-5 rockets, JAXA is also developing technology for a next-generation supersonic transport that could become the commercial replacement for the Concorde. The design goal of the project is to develop a jet that can carry 300 passengers at Mach 2. A subscale model of the jet underwent aerodynamic testing in September and October of 2005 in Australia. The economic success of such a project is still unclear, and as a consequence the project has been met with limited interest from Japanese aerospace companies like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries so far.

JAXA research centers and offices.

JAXA has research centers in many locations in Japan, and some offices overseas. Its headquarters are in Chofu, Tokyo. It also has

  • Earth Observation Research Center (EORC), Tokyo.
  • Earth Observation Center (EOC) in Hatayama.
  • Noshiro Testing Center (NTC) - Established in 1962. It carries out development and testing of rocket engines.
  • Sanriku Balloon Center (SBC) - Balloons have been launched from this site since 1971.
  • Kakuda Space Propulsion Center (KSPC) - Leads the development of rocket engines. Works mainly with development of liquid fuel engines.
  • Sagamihara Campus (ISAS) - Development of experimental equipment for rockets and satellites. Also administrative buildings.
  • Tsukuba Space Center (TKSC) in Tsukuba. This is the center of Japan's space network. It is involved in research and development of satellites and rockets, and tracking and controlling of satellites. It develops experimental equipment for the Japanese Experiment Module ("Kibo"). Training of astronauts also takes place here.

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