Japan Eyes Expansive Space Exploration Agenda
Testing and final checkout of Japan’s SELENE robotic mission to the Moon is underway. Large orbiter and two smaller lunar probes will be sent moonward later this year atop that country’s H-IIA Launch Vehicle from the Tanegashima Space Center. Image
Credit: JAXA

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado - Japan is building upon its past successes in space to forge a range of initiatives, from disaster warning systems, probes to Mercury, Venus and Jupiter, as well as conduct an aggressive lunar exploration campaign.

Kaoru Mamiya, Vice President, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) outlined his country's long-term space plans, speaking here at the 23rd National Space Symposium produced by the Space Foundation.

Mamiya detailed recent major accomplishments, such as last year's launch of the Advanced Land Observing Satellite called Daichi - meaning Terra. "It is operating smoothly and producing significant amounts of observing data," he said.

Other recent satellite launches spotlighted by Mamiya included a satellite for weather forecasting and air traffic control; Japan's first infrared imaging satellite, Akari, that has already completed its first scan of the entire sky, as well as Hinode - a solar physics spacecraft undertaken cooperatively with the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom.

Disaster management

A particular focus of JAXA is developing a disaster management support system.

Mamiya pointed out that Earth is a place of catastrophic natural events that occur almost every day, be it wild fires, floods or other disasters, that lead to the loss of human life and property.

"To tackle this problem for our civilization is to use space technologies," Mamiya observed. A JAXA initiative in this regard is Sentinel Asia, a rapid response system using satellite data and images.

Sentinel Asia involves 19 nations and 52 establishments to establish a disaster management system that is user-friendly to help combat natural disaster, Mamiya added.

Moon probe: summer sendoff

In the area of space exploration, Mamiya said that JAXA is drawing from a lineage of solar system probe launches starting back in 1985. Upcoming is the highly anticipated liftoff of Selene - a huge, 3-ton spacecraft designed to orbit the Moon.

"Selene is the largest and most sophisticated lunar mission since Apollo," Mamiya reported, and is being readied for sendoff this summer. Orbiting the Moon for a nominal 10 months, Selene is loaded with science gear "which should enrich our knowledge about the origin and evolution of the Moon."

Mamiya said that JAXA space planners are also working on a Selene 2 for 2012 and a Selene X in 2017.

JAXA's road map in space exploration also includes the Planet C mission to Venus in 2010; a Hayabusa 2 asteroid sample return in 2011, a Mercury orbiter in 2013; and dispatching a probe to Jupiter.

Common frontier

"Space is a common frontier for humanity," Mamiya explained, and "international cooperation is essential." In this regard, JAXA is prepared to be a major player in the replanting of human footprints on the Moon.

Mamiya said that there is worldwide interest in the Moon. Last month in Kyoto, he said, a multi-nation workshop was held to help hammer out a global exploration strategy for future lunar exploration.

"We will make a significant contribution to the international lunar architecture," Mamiya added, activity that he envisions will lead to placing Japanese astronauts on the lunar surface in collaboration with other space partners.