Launch vehicles and satellites

Under Itokawa's direction, ISAS developed a series of small solid-fuelled launchers known as the Lambda (L) and Mu (M) series from the 1960s onwards, and it was an L-4S that carried Ohsumi, Japan's first satellite, into orbit in February 1970. In keeping with the agency's main fields of interest, ISAS satellites focused on studying the environment around the Earth and on orbital astronomy. Successes include the Yohkoh solar observatory (a joint project with the United States and the United Kingdom) and the HALCA (Highly Advanced Laboratory for Communications and Astronomy) radio astronomy mission (see p.257)

NASDA's launchers, in contrast, were larger and liquid fuelled - their first N-series rockets were effectively US Deltas (see p.245) built under license in Japan. However, continued improvements have seen the Japanese rockets evolve along their own route, to a point where JAXA's current H-IIA has an entirely Japanese design (see panel, opposite).

An N-1 rocket launched NASDA's first satellite, called Kiku, in 1975. Although this was only an engineering test, it paved the way for an array of different applications including a network of comsats, a direct broadcast satellite TV system, weather satellites, and Earth and ocean observers. Recently, Japan has followed China in developing a recoverable satellite system, the Unmanned Space Experiment Recovery System (USERS).

OHSUMI

The 24kg (53lb) Ohsumi was purely a test satellite, sending out a signal that revealed its location and the readings of simple instruments onboard.

OHSUMI

The 24kg (53lb) Ohsumi was purely a test satellite, sending out a signal that revealed its location and the readings of simple instruments onboard.

12 September 1992

Mamoru Mohri becomes the first Japanese astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle.

1 October 2003

NASDA, ISAS, and the NAL are merged to form a new agency, JAXA.

19 November 2005

Japan's Hayabusa probe lands and tries to collect samples from the asteroid Itokawa.

first Japanese person in space, Toyohiro Akiyama (b.1942) can also claim a place in the history books is the first journalist in space. His trip to Mir aboard Soyuz TM-11 in 1990 was paid for by the Tokyo 1 Broadcasting System (TBS) network, and he made several live TV broadcasts during his time in space. Akiyama beat NASDA astronaut Mamoru Mohri into space after the launch of the Japanese-sponsored Spacelab-J Shuttle mission was delayed in the wake of the Challenger disaster.

DOCTOR ROCKET

Hideo Itokowa, musician, bollet dancer, and pioneer of the Japanese space programme, poses next to one of his experimental "Baby" rockets of the late 1950s.

DOCTOR ROCKET

Hideo Itokowa, musician, bollet dancer, and pioneer of the Japanese space programme, poses next to one of his experimental "Baby" rockets of the late 1950s.

Just as Europe's first venture beyond Earth orbit was the Giotto probe, so too Japan's Sakigake and Suisei 1986 missions to Halley's Comet paved the way for later missions to other worlds, though these missions met with mixed success.

Hiten, a technology test probe designed to relay signals from a small lunar orbiter, functioned well but was rendered useless when its partner mission, Hagomoro, failed. Nozomi, an orbiter intended to study the Martian atmosphere, failed to enter orbit around Mars after running short of fuel. And mystery still surrounds the success or failure of Hayabusa, which landed on the Near Earth Asteroid 25143 Itokawa in November 2003. The probe was supposed to take dust samples from the surface for return to Earth, but the sampling system is thought to have failed. However, it is possible that some asteroid dust may still be returned when the re-entry capsule is released in 2010. Meanwhile JAXA now has plans for a probe to Venus, and is involved in the BepiColombo mission to Mercury, a joint venture with ESA (see p.231).

TECHNOLOGY

THE H-IIA ROCKET

JAXA's current workhorse launch vehicle is the H-IIA, a basic two-stage rocket, fuelled by efficient liquid hydrogen and oxygen, to which a variety of booster modules can be added if necessary, depending on the size of payload and its destination. The H-IIA was developed from NASDA's earlier H-II, which used similar fuels and had similar flexibility, but suffered from major reliability problems that brought the old Japanese space agency to a crisis. Since its first flight, in August 2001, the H-IIA has suffered only one failure and has begun to restore Japan's tarnished reputation in the launch market. JAXA is now developing the more powerful H-IIB, based on H-IIA's proven technology.

JAPAN'S SPACE CENTRE

Located on an island to the south of Kyushu in southern Japan, Tanegashima Space Center lies as close to the equator as possible, but is still at latitude 30°N.

JAPAN'S SPACE CENTRE

Located on an island to the south of Kyushu in southern Japan, Tanegashima Space Center lies as close to the equator as possible, but is still at latitude 30°N.

sponsored Spacelab-J Shuttle mission in 1992. Despite the expected demise of the Space Shuttle, the future of Japanese manned spaceflight is assured - NASDA, and now JAXA, are partners in the International Space Station, supplying the complex Japanese Experimental Module (known by the acronym JEM or sometimes as Kibo, meaning "hope").

The largest module on the ISS, JEM is due for launch on three Space Shuttle flights in 2008 and 2009 and will be supplied by a new unmanned Japanese spacecraft, the HTV or H-ll Transfer Vehicle. In the longer term, JAXA still harbours plans for a small rocket-launched spaceplane, although development of its H-ll Orbiting Plane (HOPE) project was abandoned in 2003 after a decade of development, a victim of the reorganization of Japan's space agencies.

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