Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
On January 23, 2009, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the “Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite ‘Ibuki’” from Tanegashima, an island that is part of Kagoshima Prefecture. The success of this launch has made headlines around the world. JAXA is poised to once again make headlines again in the coming days. On or about February 27th, an astronaut by the name of Koichi Wakata will become the first Japanese astronaut to participate in a long duration mission on board the International Space Station. Wakata, who will conduct experiments and work as a flight engineer, is scheduled to be on board until the middle of May.
The organization known as “JAXA” is relatively new. In 2003, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) were merged to create JAXA. ISAS focused on astrophysics, NAL on aviation research, and NASDA on rockets and satellites. The research of ISAS paved the way for the launch of Japan’s first satellite, known as “Osumi” in 1970. Even though the names of these organizations may no longer be the same, they still have the same goal: to advance the Japanese space program. Like its motto, JAXA is “Reaching for the skies, exploring space.”
Some of JAXA’s current missions include:
Akebono - A satellite that was launched in 1989 to study aurora and Earth’s magnetosphere, the magnetized area surrounding the Earth
Geotail - A satellite that was launched in 1992 to study the tail region of Earth’s magnetosphere
Hayabusa -A space probe launched in 2003 to gather samples of material from an asteroid； scheduled to return to Earth in 2010
Suzaku - A satellite launched in 2005 to study the structure and evolution of the universe and black holes
Hinode - A satellite launched in 2007 to study the sun’s magnetic activity. In 2008 it discovered the source of solar winds.
Kaguya - An unmanned spacecraft launched in 2007 for moon exploration and acquisition of data that was named after Kaguya-hime, a princess in Japanese folklore who came from the moon. Kaguya has helped to create the most detailed topographical map of the moon to date.
In addition to these current missions, parts for a manned experimental facility known as “Kibo,” or “hope,” were delivered to the International Space Station in 2008. Construction is slated for completion sometime this year. There are two research facilities that are a part of Kibo: the Pressurized Module and the Exposed Facility. The Pressurized Module allows astronauts to conduct research in an environment similar to that of the Earth. As its name implies, the Exposed Facility is an open area where research and observations of Earth can be conducted.
In 2005, JAXA unveiled its “JAXA Vision-JAXA2025-.” This vision, detailed on the JAXA homepage, outlines five goals for the future. The first goal is “to build a secure and prosperous society through the utilization of aerospace technology.” This technology can be used in the event of a disaster, such as an earthquake. Next, JAXA wants to “prepare for the unraveling of the mysteries of the universe and for lunar utilization in order to seek the origins of the Earth and mankind.” The implementation of “world-class transportation and Japan’s indigenous space activities” is the third goal of this vision. The fourth goal, “to develop aerospace as Japan’s next key industry,” is a very important one. Interest in space exploration has increased around the world, and the desire to develop the aerospace industry shows that JAXA will play an active role in future space exploration. The final goal is “to establish Japan’s aviation industry and develop supersonic aircraft.” Technology used for the aerospace industry could be applied to the aviation industry, and potentially revolutionize the industry. Who knows what JAXA will discover when they reach for the skies and explore space?