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Japan and Space Transportation Systems

Launch vehicles are an important means of transportation that link Earth and outer space. Launch vehicles put into space communication and weather satellites, which have a direct impact on our quality of life, as well as astronomical-observation satellites and planetary-exploration satellites. Launch vehicles play an essential role in the assembly and supplying of the International Space Station. Currently, Japan has various kinds of launch vehicles to answer diversified launch needs.

The rockets' impact points are located near an area where many Japanese fishermen operate. There were no problems while ISAS was only launching sounding rockets for academic use, but as soon as NASDA's predecessor started launches for applicational use in 1963, the fishermen lodged complaints with the Japanese Government against these infringements to their fishing rights. ISAS was caught up in the trouble. The negotiations prevented ISAS from launching any rockets in 1967-1968.

Due to the fishermen's problem, the launches of sounding rockets from KSC and Tanegashima Space Center are limited to two periods, January to February and August to September, every year. Since the fishermen's problem began, the annual rate of sounding rocket launches has been around four or five.

Japan's long-awaited H-II launch vehicle debuted during 1994 and achieved two complete successes on its first two missions. The National Space Development Agency of Japan's (NASDA) new medium-lift launch vehicle was to support a variety of major programs during the following decade and there were hopes [in vain] that it would become Japan's first entry into the international commercial launch services market. The loss of the No.8 H-11 rocket carrying the MSAT (multipurpose satellite) in November 1999 led to the remaining HII launches being cancelled. Japan has decided to focus on the new HIIA rocket leaving a gap of 1-2 years in its launcher capability. Japan had not lost a spacecraft due to a domestic launch vehicle or upper stage failure since 1980.

Meanwhile Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science ended of its light-lift M-3SII program with yet another successful commercial launch in 1993. At that time the development and maiden flights of two new low-capacity boosters: the M-5 and the J-l.

Japan's space agency says it will start collecting payment for the launch of very small satellites that are being used more and more by companies and universities. JAXA announced in May 2014 that would charge 3 million yen, or about 29,000 dollars, for launching the smallest 10-centimeter-by-10-centimeter square satellite. The agency has been launching such satellites for free, provided that a selection committee acknowledges that the launch contributes to human resource development or other causes. As the demand for launching very small satellites grew, JAXA decided to offer the service for a fee. Japanese cargo space ships, including Konotori, will carry the satellites to the International Space Station. They will be released into space, starting in October 2014. JAXA said it would continue to offer free service for launches with specific aims, including development of human resources.

The JAXA Space Transportation System Research and Development Center is researching reusable space transportation systems to make access to space more reliable and economical, like airplanes are now. Much research and development is necessary to realize such a goal. In cooperation with other divisions at JAXA, the Center is drawing up a long-term research and development plan, and is carrying out conceptual studies such as comparing reusable spacecraft concepts as well as conducting research into reusable propulsion systems, lightweight structures, and highly reliable flight guidance and control. Preparations for flight demonstrations are also in progress.






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