Tag Archives: Japan

Mitsubishi wins launch contract from Inmarsat

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi has been awarded a commercial launch contract from Inmarsat.

Recent Inmarsat satellites have launched on Proton, Falcon 9, and Ariane 5 rockets operated by International Launch Services, SpaceX and Arianespace. MHI [Mitsubishi Heavy Industries] has positioned the H-2A as a secondary player in the global launch market, and the Inmarsat 6 F1 contract gives the Japanese company its second commercial telecom launch deal after the Canadian-owned Telstar 12 Vantage satellite lifted off from Tanegashima in November 2015.

Japan has made noises about shifting control of its launch industry from its space agency JAXA to the private sector. This new contract between Mitsubishi and Inmarsat suggests that they are following through with that shift. However, though no specific price was mentioned in the article, the quote below indicates that Mitsubishi will have a big hill to climb to become competitive.

“The reason why we got the launch order from Inmarsat, I think, was not, of course, the cost-competitiveness of the H-2A launch vehicle, but I think our launch record is very good — 35 consecutive successes, high reliability — and another is on-time launch,” [Ko Ogasawara, Mitsubishi vice president] said in remarks last week at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris. “We keep our schedule, and I think they put a high value on that.”

Mitsubishi’s next generation rocket, the H3, is being targeted for a launch price of $50 million, half of what the H-2A charges and more competitive in today’s market.

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New Generation looks to establish private spaceport

Capitalism in space The new private partnership led by Canon, dubbed New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning, is now searching for a location to build its own private spaceport in order to bypass restrictions placed on launches at Japan’s two government launch sites.

While JAXA can launch at any time during the year, the deal with the local fishing council limits the number of launches per year to 17, and requires JAXA to coordinate its launches for the year with that council. For New Generation, which wants to compete in the smallsat rocket business and will thus likely need to launch dozens, if not hundreds, of times per year, this arrangement won’t work.

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Akatsuki finds super-rotating equatorial jet on Venus

Japan’s Venus orbiter Akatsuki has discovered a previously unseen equatorial jet with wind speeds that often exceed 200 miles per hour.

The winds, named “equatorial jet” by the research team, were found from July to August 2016 when an infrared camera captured images of areas about 45 to 60 kilometers above the planet’s surface. The areas are invisible at optical wavelengths due to extremely dense clouds of sulfuric acid. The camera spotted thick clouds traveling at a speed of 288 kph to 324 kph near the planet’s equator.

Based on the news reports, it appears the significance of this discovery is that they identified a particular jet stream at a specific latitude. Previous observations did not have that resolution.

This would have been posted in the morning, but the internet access here in this Torrey hotel is almost as slow as what I experienced in Glacier. I had it written, but I sinply couldn’t get it to post this morning.

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Private Japanese company to test fly again by December

Capitalism in space: Interstellar Technologies, the private Japanese rocket company attempting to enter the launch market with a low cost suborbital rocket, will attempt a second test flight before the end of the year.

Their first test flight failed to reach space when they had a communications problem and had to terminate the mission early.

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Japan’s beginning shift to commercial space

Link here. The article provides a good sense of the state of Japan’s private space industry, which at this moment is generally restricted one company, Interstellar Technologies, and its as yet unsuccessful effort to launch a suborbital rocket. The following quote however helps explain why Japan has been unable to interest anyone in buying its H-2A rocket for commercial launches.

Launch costs associated with Japan’s main H-2A rocket are about ¥10 billion per launch (about $90 million), so miniature satellites often ride together with bigger satellites. A period of 50 days is required between launches, meaning the number of launches is low in Japan compared to countries including the United States, Europe, Russia, China and India. Large satellites are given priority in the launch schedule, so it is often difficult to choose a launch window for miniature satellites. [emphasis mine]

I think the $90 million price is a significant reduction from what JAXA used to charge. Fifty days to prep for launch however is ungodly slow.

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New Japanese private joint venture to enter smallsat rocket industry

Capitalism in space: A Japanese private joint venture has formed with the intent to compete in the new smallsat rocket industry.

The new company is led by President Shinichiro Ota, a former industry ministry bureaucrat and once the head of the Japan Patent Office. NGSRDP will initially be based at Canon Electronics’ headquarters, studying technologies and costs with the hope of starting commercial operations as early as this year.

The joint venture has set a price point of 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) or less per launch — an amount seen as competitive against overseas rivals. At present, plans call for a rocket smaller than the Epsilon rocket currently under development by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, but larger than JAXA’s SS-520 minirocket.

The four companies had been discussing formation of a small rocket company for about three years. President Ota has said that the “time is ripe” for the joint venture. IHI Aerospace has played a key role in the development of Epsilon, while Canon Electronics has been involved in the SS-520 project.

I would say that this is a clear sign that the competition in the smallsat rocket industry is definitely heating up.

Note that the name of this new joint venture, New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning (NGSRDP), is quite horrible. I hope they come up with something better soon for marketing purposes.

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Japanese launch scrubbed due to problem with rocket

Japan’s space agency JAXA scrubbed a Saturday launch of a GPS satellite because of a possible leak in the H2-A rocket’s helium pressurization system.

The Japanese have not released much information. However, the problem might be more serious than normal, because the rocket was still on the launchpad on Sunday, almost a day after the launch itself was scrubbed. Normally when a launch is scrubbed they move quickly to safe the rocket and get it back into the assembly building to assess the issue. That the rocket was not moved suggests they might be having a problem doing this.

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Japanese private rocket launch terminates early due of communication failure

Capitalism in space: The first launch of the first privately-built and funded Japanese suborbital rocket was terminated early today because of a communications failure.

The rocket’s developers, Interstellar Technologies, said they aborted the launch after about 80 seconds and it landed about 8 kilometers (5 miles) offshore. The aim had been to launch the rocket, called “Momo,” to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles), but it only traveled about 30-40 kilometers (19-25 miles).

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Japan’s first private rocket to launch this weekend

Capitalism in space: A company in Japan hopes to launch the first Japanese privately built suborbital rocket this coming weekend.

The rocket is small, but it uses liquid fueled engines, which gives the company the potential to scale it up to produce an orbital version, something they say they want to do by 2020.

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NASA and JAXA approve replacement of failed Japanese X-ray space telescope

NASA and JAXA have agreed to build a replacement for the Japanese Hitomi X-ray space telescope that failed after only a few weeks in orbit in March 2016.

The X-ray Astronomy Recovery Mission, or XARM, could launch as soon as March 2021, filling a potential gap in astronomers’ X-ray vision of the universe, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. NASA has agreed to a junior partner in XARM — pronounced “charm” — and supply X-ray telescopes and a spectrometer instrument for the Japanese-led mission, according to Paul Hertz, directory of NASA’s astrophysics division.

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ESA unveils dual orbiter mission to Mercury

After twenty years of development, the European Space Agency this week finally unveiled the completed dual orbiters that it hopes to launch on a seven year journey to Mercury in October 2018.

The 4,100-kilogram BepiColombo consists of two orbiters that will launch together — the ESA-managed Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the JAXA-owned Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The two spacecraft will be delivered to the orbit around Mercury stacked on top of each other by the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM). During the seven-year journey, the MMO will be shielded from the sun by the MMO Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), which will also serve as a mechanical and electrical interface between the two orbiters.

“MPO focuses on the planet, the surface and the interior size,” said Reininghous. “The orbit is a polar one — 480km times approximately 1500km — a little bit elliptical but extremely close to the planet as such with a return period of 2.3 hours. The data return is estimated at 1.5 gigabit per year.”

The MMO will focus on the planetary environment including the planet’s atmosphere, according to Reininghous. “The orbit is also polar but far more elliptical — 590 km times approximately 11,700 km. It has a period of 9.3 hours. The data return is approximately 10 percent of what we expect from the MPO.”

The European orbiter is much larger and more expensive, with Japanese probe budget being about a tenth the cost.

According to ESA, the mission took so long to build because in 2004, after about seven years of development, ESA suddenly realized that its orbiter’s thermal protection was inadequate, and required a complete redesign. To me, this is either outright incompetence (they knew from the start they were going to Mercury) or a clever way to extend the funding so that it provides an entire lifetime’s work for its builders. Think about it. Twenty-one years from concept to launch, then seven years to fly to Mercury, and then one to two years in orbit. That’s more than thirty years for this single mission.

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JAXA proposes Japan send humans to the Moon

The new colonial movement: Japan’s space agency JAXA has proposed that Japan participate in a lunar manned mission to be flown by the 2030s.

The report is very vague. It suggests that Japan create such a mission, but also do it as part of a larger international effort, which presently doesn’t even exist.

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Japan’s next rocket on schedule for 2020 launch

A new Japanese rocket, the H3, being built by Mitsubishi and designed to cut launch costs by half, is presently on schedule for debut in 2020.

Key quote from the article:

JAXA has given MHI a greater level of influence on the H3 than it did with the H-2A. Ogasawara said whereas the total launch vehicle design for the H-2A was JAXA’s responsibility, MHI’s role as prime contractor and vehicle integrator gives the company more creative freedom. He stressed, however, that JAXA is still directly involved in the design and development for certain key components. “Therefore, we work together, JAXA and MHI, very closely,” he said.

I don’t know how much of that claim is true. That they are making it though suggests that they have been strongly influenced by the shift in the U.S. from NASA-run projects to commercially-run projects.

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Japan begins testing new rocket engine

Capitalism in space: Japan has begun testing the rocket engine it will use in its next generation rocket.

The H-III will succeed the country’s current H-series rockets, H-IIA and H-IIB. The rocket will use commercially available components and a fuselage that can be mass produced, lowering launch costs to about half of the current price tag of approximately 10 billion yen ($88.6 million). The new, more powerful engine will allow the H-III to carry a midsize to large satellite weighing up to 6.5 tons — 60% more than the H-IIA.

If I understand this correctly, a launch with this new rocket will cost about $45 million, which will make it very competitive with SpaceX. At the same time, it is not as powerful, which means it will not serve the exact same customer base. Instead, its capacity makes it a direct competitor to India’s GSLV Mark III rocket.

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Japan aims for record 8 launches in 2017

Capitalism in space: If all goes as planned, Japan plans to launch a record of eight launches in a single year in 2017, partly because they will begin launch that nation’s own GPS satellite constellation.

Most of these satellites are government launches. Still, the number and in increase in launch pace indicates that Japan does not wish to be left behind in the increasing competition within the launch industry.

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Japan launches military satellite

Japan yesterday successfully launched a military surveillance satellite, dubbed the Information Gathering Satellite Radar 5 (IGS Radar-5).

Japan started the IGS program in 1998, presumably in response to North Korean missile tests around that time that sent missiles close to, or flying over, Japan.

In the years since, North Korea has repeatedly threatened to annihilate Japan (and South Korea and the United States), and continued to develop its nuclear-weapon and missile programs. The IGS satellites keep tabs on such efforts, help the Japanese government respond to natural disasters and perform several other functions, experts believe.

The first IGS craft lifted off in 2003. IGS Radar 5 is the 15th one in the program to take flight, though not all have made it to orbit. Two were lost to a launch failure in November 2003.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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