Tag Archives: Japan

Japan passes its own commercial space law

The competition heats up: Just as the U.S., Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and others have recently passed laws of clarify and encourage the private commercial development of space, Japan now done so as well, enacting its own commercial space law.

Now that Japan has adopted its Space Activities Act, start-ups are not left wondering what agency they should contact but can go in advance to discuss their plans with officials at a specially designated counter in the Cabinet Office. The new Japanese law also provides government support in the provision of financial guarantees required by commercial space launch operators, such as by arranging third-party liability insurance coverage. The required coverage is calculated on the basis of the maximum probable loss estimated in line with the rocket type and the payload content; in the case of damages in excess of this coverage, the law provides that the government is to pay for the residual damages up to a certain limit. This is similar to arrangements that have been adopted in the United States and France, although the French government sets no limit on payments.

In addition, Japan’s Space Activities Act provides that the launch operator bears liability for accident damages even if they are due to problems in the payload. This channeling of liability would seem to be disadvantageous to launch operators, but it can be expected to enhance the competitive position of the Japanese companies providing this service, because it reassures customers around the world who are seeking to have their satellites put into orbit. France is the only other country that has adopted a similar provision.

The article is worth reading in that it provides a good overview of the history of space law since the 1960s, as well as the political background that helps explain why Japan has lagged behind in the commercialization of its space industry.

Short circuit caused launch failure of Japanese mini-rocket

Japanese engineers now believe that the cause of the failure of that country’s test launch of a mini-rocket on January 15 was because of the failure of wiring insulation.

The agency said it believes the cladding of electric cables was damaged by the vibration and heat of nearby metal parts, leading the cables to directly touch the metal parts. As a result, a short circuit occurred and a data transmission device lost power, it said.

It is remarkable how much the language of this story reminds me of Soviet era press releases. Everything about it is designed to obscure the problem so that it will be difficult for outsiders to understand what happened.

From what I gather, the cables were not properly secured so that during launch they rubbed violently against some nearby sharp metal parts, which then cut the insulation and caused the short circuit. That they were not properly secured, a basic engineering requirement for any rocket, and that this announcement is written to obscure this fact, suggests once again that Japan’s space agency has some serious quality control problems that it is still not facing.

Japan to try another launch of low-cost mini-rocket

The competition heats up: Japan has decided, following a January launch failure, to try another launch attempt in 2017 of a test of low-cost mini-rocket.

Participating businesses will likely bear the brunt of the 300 million yen to 500 million yen ($2.64 million to $4.4 million) launch cost, though the government will likely allocate funds as well. JAXA aims to have the rocket finished by autumn. It will soon plan out how to procure needed parts and build the vehicle in time for a 2017 launch, then submit the plan to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. The ministry will secure a launch site accordingly, and a safety and inspections committee of its space division will review the plan.

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.

This second attempt, and the speed in which they appear to be gearing up to launch it, suggests that Japan might finally be recognizing that it has been failing badly in its efforts to participate in the new commercial launch market, and needs to energize its launch industry if it wants to participate in the exploration of the solar system.

Japanese experiment to remove space junk fails

A Japanese experiment designed to test technology for removing space junk and flown on that country’s most recent cargo ship to ISS has failed to deploy its tether as planned.

The system, designed by the Japanese space agency (JAXA) and a fishing net company, should have unfurled a 700-meter (2,300 ft) tether from a space station resupply vehicle that was returning to Earth. According to JAXA scientists, however, the system appears to have faltered.

This only adds another technical failure to a string of technical failures by Japanese spacecraft. And even though the cargo ship operated as planned, its launch was delayed when engineers discovered a leak during testing. Overall, it increasingly appears that Japan’s space program has the same kind of quality control problems as Russia.

Japan launches first military satellite

The competition heats up: Japan today successfully launched its first military satellite.

Faced with an increased military challenge from China, even as the U.S. is becoming less willing to provide it military support, Japan has upped its military program significantly. This success is especially welcome, considering the string of engineering failures that Japan has experienced recently.

The Tuesday launch marks the successful resumption of a programme that was halted last year by an embarrassing mishap. The first of the three satellites, which was meant to go into space from Europe’s Space port in French Guiana, was crushed during a flight from Japan after a blue tarpaulin covering its transport box blocked valves meant to equalize the internal air pressure as the cargo aircraft descended. The accident damaged sensitive antennas, government sources told Reuters in July.

Japan’s SS-520 launch a failure

Japan’s attempt to launch a payload into orbit with the smallest rocket ever ended in failure today.

[A]ccording to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), communication systems malfunctioned after the rocket launched, causing the ignition of the second booster to be terminated. The rocket fell into the sea southeast of Uchinoura.

My impression of Japan’s space effort in recent years is somewhat comparable to that of Russia’s: Significant quality control issues that cause too many failures. This is just one more example.

I must also note that the rocket was not a private effort, but a demo project of Japan’s government space agency, JAXA, designed to show off new technology but funded through coercive government funds, not monies provided voluntarily by customers. Thus, the pressure to succeed was much less, as no one’s job or business was at risk should it fail.

Japanese SS-520 rocket launch scrubbed due to weather

The launch of Japan’s new small rocket, SS-520, was scrubbed today due to bad weather.

Japanese officials announced a few minutes before the launch that the flight would be postponed due to bad weather at the space base. Authorities did not immediately set a new launch date.

The SS-520-4 will try to become the smallest rocket to ever put an object in orbit. Its sole payload is the six-pound (three-kilogram) TRICOM 1 spacecraft, a CubeSat from the University of Tokyo designed for communications and Earth observation experiments. Standing 31 feet (9.5 meters) tall and spanning around 20 inches (52 centimeters) in diameter, the SS-520-4 will blast off from a rail launch system and head east over the Pacific Ocean, dropping its lower two stages and payload enclosure into the sea in the first few minutes of the flight.

Primarily funded by a $3.5 million budget provided by the the Japanese government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the SS-520-4 program is a one-off demonstration by Japan’s space agency, which aims to validate low-cost technology and launch operations procedures for a future “nano-launcher” to deploy tiny satellites in orbit on dedicated rides.

The last paragraph is disappointing, but not surprising considering that this rocket is entirely owned and built by the government, which like NASA, routinely builds things and then abandons them, no matter how useful they are. I hope that some private company grabs the design here and runs with it.

Japan unveils new small rocket

The competition heats up: Japan will this week inaugurate a new rocket, the SS-520, designed to launch smallsats quickly and cheaply.

The rocket is small, only 10 meters tall and 30 centimeters in diameter, and was developed for less than $3.5 million. It was developed by JAXA, Japan’s space agency, as a vehicle to encourage the growth of that nation’s smallsat industry.

JAXA signs agreement with private lunar mining company

The competition heats up: Japan’s space agency JAXA has signed an agreement with ispace inc, a private lunar mining company that is also behind Japan’s only competing team in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition.

It is not clear if what this agreement entails. X-Prize competitors have to announce a contract with a launch company before the end of 2016, and this announcement does not say whether JAXA will provide that service to Japan’s competitor.

Japan’s Epsilon rocket launches successfully

The competition heats up: Japan today successfully launched its new Epsilon rocket on its second flight, placing in orbit a Japanese satellite designed to study the Van Allen belts.

The rocket is designed to launch Japan’s smaller satellites at a lower cost. During its first launch in 2013 JAXA made a big deal about how this rocket could be used to launch commercial satellites, but now I sense no interest in marketing it to the private sector.

Japan successfully launches its ISS cargo freighter

Japan today successfully launched its sixth HTV unmanned cargo freighter to ISS.

The launch had been delayed from a September launch due to “leaking pipes”, whatever that means. Its successful launch now however relieves some of the supply pressure on ISS, caused by the failed launch of Russia’s Progress on December 1 and the September 1 Falcon 9 launchpad explosion.

Japan developing small rocket for commercial smallsats

The competition heats up: Canon has joined a new project by the Japanese space agency JAXA to develop a small rocket for commercial smallsats.

The three-stage rocket is an upgrade to JAXA’s two-stage SS-520, which carries instruments for research observations. Measuring 52cm in diameter and less than 10 meters in length, the new version will cost less than one-tenth as much to launch as leading rockets and is expected to be used to lift microsatellites in orbit. An initial launch is slated for early next year from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Kaguya data released at last

Seven years after the mission ended Japan has finally released the full catalog of images and videos taken by its lunar orbiter Kaguya.

No explanation for the long delay has been provided. Overall, this is just another example of what to me appears to be a bloated, bureaucratic, and slow to move Japanese space program. Their rockets are expensive, their planetary probes have had repeated problems, and they seem to be very uninterested in stepping up their game to compete in the increasingly competitive international race to explore and settle the solar system. That it took them more than seven years to release this data is quite shameful.

Roman coins found in Japan

The mysteries of science: Archaeologists have uncovered Roman coins in a 13th century Japanese castle in Okinawa.

An X-ray analysis of the dime-sized coins showed some were embossed with Roman letters and possibly the image of Emperor Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear. Several others dated from a later period — the 17th century Ottoman empire.

Researchers were left scratching their heads about how the coins ended up at the castle in faraway Okinawa, which was built sometime in late 13th or early 14th century and abandoned about 200 years later. It was once the residence of a feudal lord, whose wealth was linked to regional trade but he was not known to have had business ties with Europe.

It is likely that the coins were obtained as curiosities by someone living at the castle, but the specific circumstances remain unknown.

Japan’s troubled space agency

Link here. The article describes how JAXA has pulled some remarkable successes out of the jaws of failure, but in describing these stories it made me realize how many of these failures have occurred, far more than one should expect. Just consider:

  • Nozomi failed to enter Mars orbit when its main engine did not fire as planned. The mission was a total loss.
  • Akatsuki failed to enter Venus orbit when its main engine did not fire as planned. The mission has been partly saved by the use of the spacecraft’s attitude thrusters to put it into Venus orbit five years late.
  • Hayabusa-1 had enormous problems, and was barely able to return to Earth with barely any asteroid samples, as had been the plan.

This list is essentially Japan’s entire interplanetary program since 2000, all of which failed in some significant way. The recovery of Akatsuki and Hayabusa-1 were hailed as great achievements, but in retrospect they both indicated a serious quality control problem in Japan’s space program. The loss of their most recent science X-ray telescope, Hitomi, when a software error caused the spacecraft to breakup in orbit only one month after launch, illustrated this again.

Japanese military satellite damaged during shipping

Japan’s troubled space effort suffered a bad setback when a Japanese military communications satellite was damaged in shipment to its launch site in French Guiana.

The launch of Japan’s first dedicated military communications satellite will be delayed by two years after a mishap with a blue tarpaulin damaged sensitive antennas during transportation to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, two government sources told Reuters. The mishap has set back plans by Japan’s military to unify its fractured and overburdened communications network, and could hinder efforts to reinforce defenses in the East China Sea as Chinese military activity in the region escalates.

Problems with attitude system doomed Hitomi

A series of failures in the attitude system on Japan’s X-ray space telescope Hitomi led to its destruction.

The problem started when the satellite’s inertial reference unit detected Hitomi was rotating around its Z-axis at 21.7 degrees per hour. The spacecraft was actually stable at the time, mission managers from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Friday. The satellite’s attitude control system commanded Hitomi’s reaction wheels, rapidly-spinning devices which control the pointing of the spacecraft with momentum, to counteract the spin. The action caused the satellite to rotate in the opposite direction as the faulty inertial reference unit indicated, officials said. Momentum accumulated inside the reaction wheel system, and magnetic torquers aboard the satellite were unable to unload the building momentum, which neared the reaction wheels’ design limit.

Hitomi’s computers recognized the dangerous situation and put the satellite into safe hold a few hours later. The satellite tried to stabilize using the craft’s hydrazine-fueled rocket thrusters to aim its solar panels toward the sun. But the trouble was not over, and the spacecraft’s solar sensor was unable to find the sun. Struggling to correct the growing spin rate, small rocket firings inadvertently caused Hitomi to rotate faster due to a bad setting in the thruster system, JAXA officials said.

Japanese Venus probe sends back first science data

In a triumph of engineering, the salvaged Japanese Venus probe Akatsuki has beamed back to Earth its first science data.

After an unplanned five-year detour, Japan’s Venus probe, Akatsuki, has come back to life with a bang. On 4–8 April, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) presented the first scientific results from the spacecraft since it was rescued from an errant orbit around the Sun and rerouted to circle Venus, four months ago. These include a detailed shot of streaked, acidic clouds and a mysterious moving ‘bow’ shape in the planet’s atmosphere.

Despite the probe’s tumble around the Solar System, its instruments are working “almost perfectly”, Akatsuki project manager Masato Nakamura, a planetary scientist at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Sagamihara, Japan, announced at the Inter­national Venus Conference in Oxford, UK. And if another small manoeuvre in two years’ time is successful, he said, the spacecraft might avoid Venus’s solar-power-draining shadow, and so be able to orbit the planet for five years, rather than the two it was initially assigned.

The timing is also good, since Akatsuki is now the only probe circling Venus, and will be for a number of years, until someone else approves, builds, and launches a mission.

Air Force: Hitomi not hit by space junk

The Air Force has concluded that the Japanese X-ray telescope was not hit by debris, and that its problem was thus likely caused by some internal engineering failure.

What exactly happened remains unclear. Moreover, Japanese engineers still hope they may be able to save the spacecraft, as they are periodically still getting some intermittent signals from it.

Video suggests Hitomi tumbling in orbit

Video taken by an amateur astronomer of Hitomi shows it spinning out of control, another indication that something catastrophic occurred to the newly launched X-ray telescope.

The video shows an object that looks like Hitomi, which lost contact Saturday with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), shining and then turning extremely dark in short intervals. The wild changes in brightness might mean its sunlight-reflecting side is moving turbulently. “The fact that it is rotating with extreme variations in brightness indicates that it is not controlled and that some event caused it to begin its rotation,” Paul Maley, a former NASA flight controller who observed Hitomi from the ground in Arizona, was quoted as saying.

Debris spotted near Hitomi

U.S. military observations have detected debris near the Japanese X-ray telescope Hitomi that has failed to respond to communication signals.

The U.S. Joint Space Operations Center on Sunday said it has spotted five objects floating near Japan’s brand new Hitomi X-ray astronomy satellite that lost communication with Earth the previous day. In a Twitter post, the center, which tracks objects in orbit, said it identified five pieces of “break up” debris in the vicinity of the satellite.

None of this sounds encouraging.

No communications with new Japanese X-ray telescope

Bad news: Engineers have not been able to establish communications with Japan’s new X-ray telescope, Hitomi, since it was launched last month.

The JAXA announcement is very terse, and somewhat unclear, as its wording suggests that communications were not scheduled to begin until yesterday, even though the spacecraft was launched February 17. To me that does not sound right. Regardless, failure to establish communications at the beginning of a flight is usually a very bad thing, as it usually means something fundamental failed at launch and is thus difficult to fix or overcome.

United Arab Emirates teams up with Japan

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) has signed a cooperative agreement with Japan’s space agency JAXA.

The details are slim, but I suspect it is similar to the recent UAE/India deal and involves the UAE providing some of its oil money in exchange for getting some of Japan’s technical help.

Update: My suspicions were correct. UAESA has purchased launch services from Japan Mitsubishi for its Mars mission, dubbed Hope, scheduled for launch in 2020.

Akatsuki to finally begin studying Venus

After a five year delay because its initial attempt to enter Venus orbit failed, the Japanese probe Akatsuki is finally about to begin science operations.

Its present orbit is less than ideal, passing 440,000km from the planet at its farthest point. That is roughly five times greater than initially planned and means the orbit time is now nine days. The change in orbit has affected the probe’s observation plan. Of its seven planned missions, Akatsuki will be able to complete only one: taking serial images of clouds. Unfortunately, the probe’s five cameras, each capturing images in different wavelengths, including infrared and ultraviolet, will not be able to provide the same resolution at this greater distance. Observing volcanic eruptions on the Venusian surface may also be difficult.

There is an upside to the situation, however. Takeshi Imamura, an associate professor at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, says the longer orbital period means the probe will be able to collect longer continuous stretches of data.

Considering everything, it is magnificent that Akatsuki will be able to do any science at Venus at all.

Japan looks to private space

The competition heats up: Japan’s legislature is considering bills that would allow for the private launching of Japanese rockets.

Draft bills for the Space Activities Act and Satellite Remote Sensing Act, to be submitted to the regular Diet session from Jan. 4, will require the government to scrutinize launch plans before granting case-by-case permission. Under the Basic Plan on Space Policy set in early 2015, the government aims to expand the size of the space industry to around ¥5 trillion over the next decade. The government would also oblige companies to pay compensation in the event of accidents. Victims would receive government compensation if private operators are unable to cover all the damages, according to the drafts.

Currently, the only entity that has a space program is the state-sponsored Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The proposed laws will probably not work very well, as they they seem to maintain the government’s strong control over everything.

Akatsuki’s Venus orbit confirmed

Venus in ultraviolet by Akatsuiki

Japanese engineers have confirmed that Akatsuki has entered orbit around Venus and can now begin science observations.

The image on the right was taken by the spacecraft’s ultraviolet camera, and clearly shows the as-yet unidentified dark material in Venus’s upper atmosphere. These dark streaks have been seen since the first Venus fly-by in the 1960s, but no observations have been able to determine what the material is that shows up as dark in ultraviolet light.

This success is a triumph for the engineers that operate Akatsuki. Kudos to them!

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