The Earth at night and the star Sirius captured by JAXA Astronaut Yui Kimya. Image: JAXA/NASA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is Japan’s core agency responsible for the research, development and implementation of technology in space. It was established in 2003, however Japan’s involvement in the field of space development started long before that. In 1970 Japan became the world’s fourth country to successfully launch its first satellite: ‘Ohsumi’. Since then, Japan has developed many world-leading space technologies in various fields, such as space science, human spaceflight, Earth observation and space transportation. Today, JAXA continues to develop and harness these technological strengths in order to contribute to space development around the world and maximize the potential of space for the benefit of humankind. Read on to find out more about some of JAXA’s projects and missions.

Space Transportation

Japan’s space technology has made great advances since the development of its first rocket, a 23-centimetre long pencil rocket by “the father of Japanese rocketry”, aeronautical engineer Dr Itokawa Hideo. Launch vehicles (rockets) are a vital part of the space transportation system, carrying satellites and spacecraft, with astronauts or cargo, from Earth to space. JAXA’s current primary launch vehicles are H-IIA, a large scale, reliable, mainstay rocket that supports the missions of satellites and space probes; H-IIB, a large transportation system that carries supplies to the International Space Station; H3, JAXA’s next-generation, heavy-lift flagship rocket launching for the first time in Japanese fiscal year 2021; and Epsilon, a solid-fuel rocket designed to launch satellites into orbit. JAXA continues its work on enhancing the performance, reliability and efficiency of its launch vehicles, offering a dependable delivery of supplies to space.

Earth Observation

Satellites are widely used for weather forecasting, navigation, communication and broadcasting, and are indispensable in modern life. They also assist in environmental monitoring, offering the ability to uniformly observe the global atmosphere, land, and oceans from space. In 2009, JAXA launched the world’s first Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT), named IBUKI, which monitors the global atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane. In 2018, IBUKI-2 (GOSAT-2) was launched to monitor long-term changes in greenhouse gases, an essential task for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement: the international treaty on climate change signed in 2016. With these satellite technologies, JAXA aims to contribute solutions to global challenges. Learn more by watching a video of our online event Space Transportation & Earth Observation Satellites with speakers from JAXA.

Space Exploration

Hayabusa2 is an exploration mission to the asteroid Ryūgū. Based on the theory that water previously existed on Ryūgū, the mission’s aim is to gain a better understanding of the origins of planets and water on Earth. The spacecraft was launched in December 2014 and took just over three and a half years to reach Ryūgū. Small rovers landed on the asteroid and subsurface samples were accessed by an impactor firing to create an artificial crater on the asteroid. Hayabusa2 departed Ryūgū in November 2019 and delivered the samples via a separated capsule which landed in Woomera Desert in Australia in December 2020. Safely recovered, the samples are undergoing extensive analysis. Learn more about this mission by watching a video of our online event Searching for the Origins of the Universe which featured speakers from JAXA and took place just three weeks prior to Hayabusa2’s return to Earth.

International Space Station: Module Kibō

JAXA is one of five space agencies participating in the International Space Station (ISS) programme – a collaborative project of a scale unmatched in human history. Its key contribution has been the development of the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), called Kibō (meaning ‘hope’), which is the largest module on ISS and provides a microgravity environment for scientific research that contributes to solving challenges on Earth. The agency offers access to Kibō facilities for many Asian countries through cooperative relationships with Japan. Since 2015, JAXA has been working with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to provide emerging space nations with opportunities to deploy cube satellites (CubeSats) – micro/nano-satellites for space research – from Kibō. This collaborative project contributes to space capacity building and provides support to non-space faring countries and regions, in advancing their space capabilities.

International Collaboration

In its collaboration efforts, JAXA participates in international space exploration projects that aim to contribute to the expansion of sustainable human activities in space. Currently, it is involved in the Artemis Programme led by NASA which aims to establish an ongoing presence on the Moon for peaceful purposes. Supporting this programme with Japanese technology, JAXA is working with both industry partners and academia. Other collaborative projects include the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission led by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to explore potential resources in the lunar polar region; and the Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) Mission, led by JAXA with international participation, to understand the origins of the two Martian moons and collect samples from the larger moon Phobos. Find out more by watching a video of our online event The International Space Station & Space Exploration with Astronaut Yui Kimiya.

JAXA’s project and missions were the focus of a series of online events presented by Japan House London in collaboration with JAXA and the Royal Astronomical Society.

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