Tag Archives: Japan

Privately-built Japanese smallsat successfully tests new technology

Capitalism in space: A privately-built Japanese smallsat has successfully tested seven new technologies on a six-month long mission that was launched in January on Japan’s newest low-cost Epsilon rocket.

For the first time, the Japanese space agency turned over development of one of its satellites to a startup. Axelspace Co. developed RAPIS-1 for the agency is a short time period, going from design to launch in only about two years, the agency said. The satellite bus features a standardized interface that made attaching instruments and equipment easier. The mission equipment and bus were independently designed to prevent failures of the former from affecting the latter, JAXA said.

The article at the link provides details about the technologies tested, all of which increase significantly the capabilities of smallsats to replace standard larger and heavier satellites.

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Interstellar suborbital launch ends in failure

Capitalism in space: A suborbital launch attempt today by Interstellar, a private Japanese smallsat rocket company, failed one minute into flight, with the rocket falling into the sea.

It apparently failed at about 12 kilometers elevation, when it began tumbling. I have embedded the video of the launch below the fold, cued to just before liftoff.

This was their fifth launch attempt. Only the third launch reached their target altitude of 100 kilometers.
» Read more

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Japan launches HTV cargo ship to ISS

Japan today successfully launched to ISS the last of its first generation HTV cargo ships.

This was the ninth such cargo ship launched by Japan. The mission was also the last launch of Mitsubishi’s H-2B rocket, Japan’s most powerful. It is being replaced with the H-3 rocket, which they hope to fly for the first time before the end of this year. They also hope that the H3 will be cheaper to operate, and will allow Mitsubishi to garner some commercial business with it, something they failed entirely to do with the H-2B.

This was also Japan’s second launch in 2020, which means they remain outside the leaders in the 2020 launch race:

8 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia
3 ULA

The U.S. continues to lead China 11 to 8 in the national rankings.

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Evidence suggests Ryugu was once closer to Sun

The uncertainty of science: Spectral data collected of the surface of Ryugu by Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe suggests that the asteroid once spent a period of time much closer to the Sun.

The combined data show an oddly striated world. Ryugu’s equator and poles are tinged blue and are brighter compared with its darker, reddish mid-latitudes. These color differences wouldn’t be obvious to the human eye, although the brightness changes might be.

…As Tomokatsu Morota (University of Tokyo) and colleagues write in the May 8th Science, Ryugu’s boulders likely start bluish. Then a combination of solar wind exposure, meteoroid impacts, and solar heating reddens them. This redder stuff migrates to the asteroid’s mid-latitudes over time, because topographically those are the lowest on Ryugu’s surface. That movement leaves the higher equator and polar regions relatively bluer and brighter.

Based on this data, the scientists posit that Ryugu was closer to the Sun from 800,000 to 8 million years ago, and that the evidence also suggests that the asteroid is only at most 17 million years old.

To put it mildly, there are great uncertainties to these conclusions.

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Japan tests new engine for new rocket

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi has successfully tested the new engine it will use in the new rocket, the H3, that it is building for Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

JAXA reports that the engine fired for the planned duration of 240 seconds (4 minutes) at the space agency’s Tanegashima Space Center. It was the seventh hot fire of the new engine, which is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

JAXA plans H-3’s first test launch by the end of the nation’s 2020 fiscal year, which began on April 1 and will end on March 31, 2021. It is not known whether work slow downs resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will affect the schedule.

The two-stage H3 is intended to be a more affordable and flexible replacement for the H-IIA and H-IIB boosters now in use. The new rocket is designed to place payloads weighing 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) or more into sun-synchronous orbit at 500 km (310.7 miles) or 6,500 kg (14,330 lb) into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

I do wish JAXA or Mitsubishi would give this rocket a more interesting name. It would help their woeful marketing attempts to sell it to other customers.

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Japan suspends funding to TMT

The Japanese government has confirmed that it has suspended payment of its annual contribution to the budget of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) because of the project’s inability to begin construction on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Japanese astronomers strongly prefer placing TMT on Mauna Kea because it is relatively close to Japan, unlike the proposed replacement site in the Grand Canary Islands in the Atlantic.

I would say this is the next nail in the coffin for TMT in Hawaii. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has money to fund construction of a big telescope for U.S. astronomers, but has not been able to decide on whether to give the money to TMT, or to the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), already under construction in Chile, or to both.

Astronomers have been lobbying for dual funding, using the argument that the two telescopes are in the opposite north and south hemispheres. Moving TMT to the Grand Canaries, at a higher latitude than Hawaii, strengthens this argument. With the apparent exit of Japan it could be that the way is now cleared to give up on Hawaii and for TMT to make the move to a more welcoming site.

Hawaii’s protesters, supported by the state’s Democratically-controlled government, will of course celebrate. What they will be celebrating however will be the death-knell of science in Hawaii.

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Japan to send unmanned probe to Mars’ moon Phobos

The new colonial movement: Japan revealed yesterday that it plans to send unmanned probe to Mars’ moon Phobos, using the basic designs developed for the asteroid mission Hayabusa-2.

Like Hayabusa-2, they will attempt to grab a sample from Phobos, and will launch in September 2024, returning its sample in 2029.

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Japan to establish its own military space unit

Working in conjunction with the new U.S. Space Force, Japan now plans to establish its own defense-oriented space unit.

The space unit will be added to an existing air base at Fuchu in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where about 20 people will be staffed ahead of a full launch in 2022. The role of the space unit is to conduct satellite-based navigation and communications for other troops in the field, rather than being on the ground.

Abe’s Cabinet in December approved 50.6 billion yen (U.S. $459.2 million) budget in space-related projects, pending parliamentary approval. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words indicate the unit’s purpose, to provide support from space for the operations of Japan’s allies. This makes sense, as Japan itself has no real army.

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Animal life thriving in Fukushima radioactive zone

The uncertainty of science: Despite fears that the radioactivity released from the Fukushima nuclear accident would make life difficult if not impossible within the 80-mile radius exclusion zone surrounding the reactor, animals are thriving there, in large unexpected numbers.

Now, nearly a decade after the nuclear accident, the wildlife populations appear to be thriving. Animals are most abundant in areas still devoid of humans, with more than 20 species captured in the UGA’s camera study.

Particular species that often find themselves in conflict with humans, especially Fukushima’s wild boar, were most often photographed in human-evacuated areas. Without the threat of humankind, wildlife is flourishing. In the years since the nuclear accident, Japan’s wild boar seems to have taken over abandoned farmland — even moving into abandoned homes. The government hired boar hunters to cull the population prior to re-opening parts of the original exclusion zone in 2017.

This phenomenon has happened before. Life inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine became an accidental wildlife preserve after humans left following the nuclear disaster there in April 1986. [emphasis mine]

This story, and that of Chernobyl, does not prove that radioactivity is harmless. Not at all. What it shows is that we know diddly-squat about its effects on life. For example, one study has shown changes in the weight and size of one species of monkey at Fukushima has shrunk, but have flourished nonetheless.

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Hayabusa-2 fires main ion engines for return to Earth

After spending two weeks testing its main ion engines just beyond the gravitational sphere of influence of the asteroid Ryugu, Japanese engineers today initiated full engine operation, beginning the spacecraft’s journey back to Earth.

Hayabusa-2 is expected to return to Earth space in December 2020, where it will release a small capsule containing the two samples it obtained of Ryugu will be released to land on Earth and be recovered. At that point, if Hayabusa-2 is still in good condition it will be available to send to other locations in the solar system.

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Hayabusa-2 begins journey back to Earth

The Hayabusa-2 science team has fired up the spacecraft’s ion engine to leave the asteroid Ryugu and began its begins journey back to Earth.

It will take about six days to exit the gravitational sphere of influence of Ryugu. During that time period they will be continually releasing real time images of the asteroid from the spacecraft’s navigation camera, as it slowly gets farther away.

In mid-December they will fire the spacecraft’s main engines for an arrival near Earth in late 2020. At that point the small return capsule holding the samples from Ryugu will separate and land in the Australian desert. Hayabusa-2, still operational, might then be given a new subsequent mission.

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Hayabusa-2 to begin return voyage on November 13

In a press conference today the science team for the asteroid probe Hayabusa-2 announced that the spacecraft will begin the first stage of its journey back to Earth tomorrow, using its ion engine to slowly pull away from Ryugu.

That first stage will take a little less than a week. Once the spacecraft gets about 25 miles from Ryugu it will leave its sphere of gravitational influence, when it will then begin its cruise phase back to Earth.

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Mitsubishi offers its H3 rocket to Artemis

Earlier this week Japan announced that it planned to become a partner in NASA’s Artemis program to build a space station in lunar orbit.

That announcement was very vague. Yesterday an official from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries might have offered the first real detail, suggesting that its new H3 rocket, scheduled for its first lift-off in 2020, could be used to launch components for Artemis, as early as 2025. The official described one option for using the H3, sending Japan’s upgraded ISS cargo freighter, the HTV-X, to Gateway in 2025 or 2026.

Launching an HTV-X cargo vessel to the gateway would require two H3 launches, he said. The first launch would send an HTV-X into an orbit around the Earth, he said. The second launch would send up an upper stage with an enlarged fuel tank to dock with the HTV-X and propel it to the Gateway, he said.

What was not stated was who will pay for this. The U.S.? Japan? Either way Mitsubishi, which has failed badly in garnering any of the international commercial satellite business for its H2B rocket, is clearly trying to attract business now for the H3 rocket, supposedly designed to be cheaper to launch.

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Hayabusa-2 releases last mini-lander/rover to Ryugu

The Hayabusa-2 science team today released their last mini-lander, dubbed MINERVA-II2, toward Ryugu, with an expected landing expected no later than October 8.

After MINERVA-II2 lands, it will do the same as the first, operate for about two days on the surface, moving by a series of bounces/rolls and taking close-up pictures of the surface as it does so.

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Three launches today, including launch of three astronauts and UAE’s first spaceman

Three launches today, by China, Japan, and Russia. China launched a Yunhai-1 weather satellite using its Long March 2D rocket. Japan in turn successfully launched, on its second attempt, its HTV cargo freighter to ISS. This was Japan’s second launch this year.

Finally, Russia has just successfully put three astronauts into orbit using its Soyuz rocket, including the first astronaut of the United Arab Emirates.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

18 China
15 Russia
10 SpaceX
6 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. lead over China in the national rankings is now 19 to 18.

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Mitsubishi IDs cause of launchpad fire, reschedules launch

Mitsubishi, the Japanese company that builds the H-2B rocket for Japan’s space agency JAXA, has identified the cause of the dramatic launchpad fire that broke out only about three hours before the launch of their HTV unmanned ISS cargo freighter.

MHI announced Friday that officials believe the fire started near an “exit hole” on the mobile launch platform. Investigators believe the blaze was most likely caused by static electricity, and exacerbated by a flammable oxygen-rich environment inside the mobile launch platform.

Low winds at Tanegashima during the Sept. 10 countdown allowed oxygen vapors to build up at the launch pad in higher concentrations than previous countdowns, officials said. Super-cold oxygen is used as an oxidizer in both stages of the H-2B rocket, and also flows through the first stage’s twin LE-7A main engines during pre-launch “chilldown” conditioning procedures.

“As a result of the investigation, it was confirmed that there was a high possibility that the fire spread due to the static electricity generated by the oxygen dripping from the engine exhaust port during the propellant filling operation, which continued to blow on the heat-resistant material in the exit hole at the movable launch pad,” MHI said in a statement. “We have taken corrective measures and have confirmed normal functioning of the rocket and facility,” MHI said.

They have rescheduled the launch for September 26. Initially they were aiming for September 24, but rescheduled because there might be an orbital conflict between their rocket’s second stage and the launch of a Soyuz to ISS that same day.

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Hayabusa-2 completes rehearsal for MINERVA-II drop

Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its rehearsal for its planned drop of its last MINERVA-II bouncer/rover, releasing two reflective targets in order to track how they spiral down to the surface of Ryugu.

Hayabusa 2’s cameras will track the movement of the two navigation aids as they fly in space around Ryugu over the next several days. Scientists expect Ryugu’s tenuous gravity will pull the target markers to the asteroid’s surface within a week.

The release of that last bouncer is now expected in about a month. After spending time obtaining the data from that drop, Hayabusa-2 will then head back to Earth by the end of the year.

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Hayabusa-2 dropping orbiting target marker

In preparation for the release and landing of Hayabusa-2’s second MINERVA-II2 tiny rover/bouncer, the spacecraft today began a close-approach to the asteroid Ryugu, where it will release two target markers.

Once released, Hayabusa-2 will back off to observe these markers as they spiral down into Ryugu, landing sometime around September 23.

This operation is a rehearsal for the release and landing of MINERVA-II2, which like the first two bouncers back in September 2018 will bounce along the asteroid’s surface, taking pictures and gathering data.

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Video of the Japanese launchpad fire

I have embedded below the fold the video of the launchpad fire on September 10 that forced Japan to scrub the launch of its H-2B rocket carrying its HTV unmanned cargo freighter to ISS.

I set up the video to start just prior to the appearance of the fire, at 10 minutes in. Its appearance is quite dramatic. The video then continues for about twenty more minutes, showing the fire-fighting effort that brings the fire under control.

Japan’s space agency JAXA has still not released any further information about what caused the fire, the damage, or when they might reschedule the launch.
» Read more

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Japan scrubs launch due to launchpad fire

Japan today scrubbed the launch of its unmanned HTV cargo freighter to ISS due to a launchpad fire that broke out only three and half hours before liftoff.

There is as yet no word on the cause of the fire, or how much damage it caused. Nor have they said anything about rescheduling the launch.

This would have been Japan’s second launch in 2019, a drop from the average of 4 to 6 in the last five years.

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Hayabusa-2 in safe mode for one day on August 29

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe automatically entered safe mode for one day on August 29, causing engineers to postpone a planned operation set for Sept 5.

Hayabusa2 is equipped with four reaction wheels that are used to control the posture of the spacecraft, and posture control is usually performed using three of these reaction wheels. On August 29, the back-up reaction wheel that has not been used since October last year was tested, and an abnormal value (an increased torque) as detected. The spacecraft therefore autonomously moved into the Safe-Hold state. Details of the cause of the abnormal torque value are currently under investigation. On August 30, restoration steps were taken and the spacecraft returned to normal. However, as the spacecraft moved away from the home position due to entering Safe-Hold, we are currently having to return to the home position. We will return to the home position this weekend.

The attitude of the spacecraft is controlled by three reaction wheels as before. Entering the Safe-Hold state is one of the functions employed to keep the spacecraft safe, which means that procedures have worked normally.

In this case it is very clear that this event actually demonstrated that the spacecraft’s systems are operating properly to prevent it from becoming lost. However, the event also underlined the urgency of getting its samples from the asteroid Ryugu back to Earth.

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Japan’s plan for returning Hayabusa-2’s Ryugu samples to Earth

Japan’s today provided an update on what it has done to prepare the location where Hayabusa-2’s samples from the asteroid Ryugu will land on Earth.

The landing site is in the Woomera Prohibited Area (WPA) in the outback of southern Australia. Japan has already signed an agreement with that country for the recovery, as well as done preliminary surface work

The recovery site is an Australian Government prohibited area and is not accessible to the public. As part of the preparatory work, a field survey of the proposed recovery site in the WPA was conducted with permission from the Australian Government. This preparatory work confirmed the suitability of both the proposed recovery site and the candidate site for the antenna station that will search for the capsule.

The landing of the recovery capsule is now scheduled for late in 2020.

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Japanese private smallsat rocket company launch failure

Capitlism in space: Interstellar Technologies, a Japanese private smallsat rocket company, experienced on July 27 its third suborbital launch failure in four attempts.

The vehicle only reached an altitude of 13 kilometers following the launch at 4:20 p.m., falling into the sea some 9 kilometers (about 5.5. miles) offshore from Taiki, Hokkaido, its test site, Interstellar Technologies said. The rocket is the same model as Momo-3, measuring about 10 meters long, 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing 1 ton.

After failed attempts in 2017 and 2018, the startup finally found success with its third launch in May, with the rocket reaching an altitude of around 113 km before falling into the Pacific Ocean.

The failure occurred when an onboard computer detected something wrong and shut the engine down.

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Movie of Hayabusa-2’s 2nd Ryugu touch-and-go

The Hayabusa-2 science team has released a short movie showing the spacecraft’s second touch-and-go sample grab on the surface of Ryugu.

The movie is available at the link above, or here.

From the burst of material that flies off the surface at touchdown, it is very clear why the science team was so worried about damaging Hayabusa-2 during this event.

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Hayabusa-2’s second touchdown sample grab

Hayabusa touchdown sequence

The Hayabusa-2 science team yesterday released a series of close-up images taken just as the spacecraft touched down and then backed off from the surface of Ryugu.

I have cropped and annotated that sequence and placed all three images side-by-side above. The red arrows in the first two images highlight similar shadows in both pictures, with the appearance of dust visible in the lower center of the middle touchdown picture. I have not marked any comparable surface features in the third image because the uplift of material makes it too difficult.

That uplift however is exactly what the Hayabusa-2 science team needs, as it is some of this material that has hopefully been captured. Their fear was that this uplift posed a risk to the spacecraft itself, but they took precautions to minimize the risk and it appears that these precautions have worked.

We now must wait until the samples come back to Earth in December 2020 to see exactly what they caught.

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Hayabusa-2’s second touchdown an apparent success

Japan’s Hayabusa-2 probe has successfully completed its second touch-and-go sample grab on the asteroid Ryugu.

Japan’s Hayabusa2 successfully completed its second touchdown on the asteroid Ryugu and probably captured material from its interior that was exposed by firing a projectile into the asteroid earlier this year. It is the first collection of subsurface materials from a solar system body other than the moon.

Engineers and technicians in the spacecraft’s control room near Tokyo could be seen erupting into cheers and applause on a YouTube live stream when Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda proclaimed the operation a success just before 11 a.m. local time. At an afternoon press briefing, Tsuda said, “Everything went perfectly.” He joked that if a score of 100 indicated perfection, “I would give this a score of 1000.”

They will now begin the journey home, with the samples arriving on Earth in December 2020.

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Hayabusa’s 2nd sample grab on Ryugu

Target 2nd landing site on Ryugu
Click for full resolution image.

The Hayabusa-2 science team today posted detailed information in two posts about the process that led to the decision to attempt a second touch-and-go sample grab on the surface of Ryugu. The first part outlined in detail what they have learned about the target landing site. The second part described the decision making process.

The image to the right, reduced to post here, is from the second part. It shows the crater they created with a projectile and the target landing site, labeled C01-C. The dark areas show the changes on the surface following the impact. Their analysis of the target site found that, first, they can land there without undue risk to the spacecraft, and, second, they have a high probability of getting ejecta thrown up from the crater in their sample.

Based on all this information, they decided to attempt it, on July 11. I especially like how they stated this decision:

The second touchdown will be attempted on July 11. We will proceed with our mission with care, but boldly go. [emphasis mine]

I am sure my readers will recognize the literary reference.

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Hayabusa-2 to attempt 2nd sample grab

The new colonial movement: The Hayabusa-2 science team has decided to attempt a second touch-and-go sample grab from the man-made crater they created on the surface of the rubble-pile asteroid Ryugu.

JAXA engineers confirmed that the probe’s camera and other equipment that were slightly damaged by the first landing are usable, and that there are no big rocks at the candidate site. They gave the go-ahead for a landing on July 11.

Hayabusa2 is scheduled to begin its descent from an altitude of 20,000 meters at around 10 a.m. on July 10 Japan time, and touch down on the asteroid’s surface about 25 hours later.

This is the first time I have heard of any damage to the spacecraft from the first touch-and-go landing. Regardless, they have decided they can risk another sample grab and still have the ability to return the samples to Earth.

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