Visit JAXA’s Space Center in Tsukuba and Japan’s space exploration

  • looking into the history of Japan’s space exploration by visit Space Center-

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x01.JPG       Recently, one of the great information was brought to JapaneseJAXA Tsukuba- outlook x01.JPG space exploration history. This is a news coverage on the successful landing on of“Hayabusa-2” on the asteroid “Ryugyu” and taking up a sample soil from there. It is really astonishing technology that performed a pinpointed touch down on the planet that’s one billion km away in the JAXA Tsukuba- outlook x03.JPGuniverse. With this inspiring news, I have tried to visit the Tsukuba Space Development Center again this time. This is the description on this experience.
The Center is known to exhibit various memorial satellites, space station, rockets, and other objects which have been launched in the successive generation. It might be an ideal spot for inspecting the Japanese challenges to space exploration until now. I’ve traced here the figure of challenges to the space development in Japan along with describing my experience on this Center in this article.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x05.JPG     Note: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was formed in 2003, by merging with the Space Science Institute (ISAS), the Space Development Agency (NASDA), and the Aerospace Technology Research Institute (NAL), which were operating independently each other before. Tsukuba Space Information Center is an affiliated facility under this JAXA. For this reason, the major exhibits are inevitably concentrated in the Jaxa’s own activities. Meanwhile, it is said that many of the space satellites launched by the 1990s were mostly from the pre-integration ISAS. So, the article tries to introduce these ISAS’s achievements at the same time.

♣  Overview of Space Center and its Exhibition Center “Space Dome”

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x09.JPG    In the Center’s exhibition hall “Space Dome” are displaying variousJAXA Tsukuba- outlook x02.JPG models and real things of artificial satellites and rockets concerning Japanese space development with the extensive commentaries on the previous achievements. Such as a series of space satellites launched by Japan since 1970s, a structural model of Japanese experiment laboratory in the international space station (ISS), various rocket models which launched satellites, JAXA Tsukuba- rocket x05.JPGas well as the recent spacecraft like “Hayabusa” and others. In addition, the graphic images of weather observation which was obtained from satellites, geological maps of terrains and oceans of earth, terrestrial analysis done by satellite, and other scientific results are also found in the huge screen. By careful observation into these exhibits, we can learn much how the space development has been evolved, what kind technologies are embodied in satellites, how extent the mystery of universe has been unraveled, and so on. It looks an excellent museum facility to worth to visit.

♣  The early days of rocket and space development technology in Japan and the exhibition

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x13.JPG      In the corner of exhibition hall, we can find a model of tiny gray rocket JAXA Tsukuba- rocket x04.JPGless than 50 cm long being quietly placed beside the huge rocket models. This is called “Pencil rocket” (23 cm long and 1.8 cm in diameter), this is the one which was firstly used for the initial experiments in 1950s. And it is said that Japan’s rocket and space development had been begun in this line. In a sense, this is a symbolic exhibit for Japanese space development history.
JAXA Tsukuba- rocket x02.JPG     In retrospect, Japan’s rocket development begun in the 1930s, but it was interrupted by the Pacific War, and even after that, the aircraft and rocket development were banned long during the occupation period. Then, in 1952, under the San Francisco treaty, Japan JAXA Tsukuba- rocket x01.JPGbarely allowed to start development of aircraft and rockets and could step out the exploration in this field for the first time. The leader of this movement was Hideo Itokawa at the University of Tokyo, and this small toy-like “Pencil Rocket” was used in 1955 for his first trial experiments.

However, the advancement of rocket technology and the catch  up process was quite fast thank to the proactive engagement by his research team and the government support. JAXA Tsukuba- rocket x03.JPGAnd in 1958, the what’s called “Kappa rocket” was developed for the weather observation purposes, and it hardly reached an altitude of 40 km. Also, by the “Lambda Rocket” as a successor, the flying record could advance to the 2000 km which was an enough altitude to launch satellites.
And in 1970, the Japan’s first satellite, “Osumi” was successfully JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x02.JPGlaunched by the “lambda-4 S” rocket (L-4S). This was the fourth successful satellite in the world after the USSR, the US and France. The Tsukuba Center unfortunately doesn’t display this “Osumi” model, but pictures and description are presented there.
However, the process of challenge and failure, countless trial and error until reaching to this great attainment, is like a dramatic grandeur story, and this process is depicted in detail on the homepage of Space Science Institute’s (ISAS) titled “History of Space Development in Japan”.

♣   Japan’s early scientific satellite development and the exhibition

JAXA Tsukuba- moon x01.JPG       Meanwhile, the US and Soviet space development and artificial satellite navigation technology were far ahead of Japan. In 1961, theJAXA Tsukuba- moon x04.JPG astronaut Gagarin of the Soviet Union had been around the Earth by the spacecraft “Vostok” as a first human in space in 1962. The  famous message “Earth is blue” had sent to the whole world. And almost the same year, the U.S. had also achieved manned exploration travel to space flown by the “Friendship”. And, in 1969, the United States JAXA Tsukuba- moon x02.JPGsucceeded in landing on the moon for the first time with “Apollo 11”, and it became a dramatic news coverage at the time to memorize the first significant moment for mankind standing on the JAXA Tsukuba- moon x03.JPGmoon.    These space development challenges had somehow affected by the armed race under the Cold War, but it is also signified achievement that has enforced the science and technology and promoted the geographic and meteorological understanding about the situation of our earth. It is also believed to contribute to define the earth as only one unit among the great universe.
JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x10.JPG  On the other hand, Japan, which has participated in the development that was one lap behind, have strongly enforced the space development under the international technical cooperation while upgrading rocket performances. This progress is well shown in the commentary in the space center exhibition.

♣  Birth and Development of Experimental Scientific Satellite in 1970s

JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x01.JPG Meantime, when looking into the exhibition of the Center, the first satellite models is a display of the experiment satellite “Kiku No. 1”.  This satellite started to develop in 1971 and successfully JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x13.JPGlaunched and circled on orbit in 1975. Next to this object, the rather large “Kiku No.3” (1981) is placed in the hall. (These satellites were launched by the N-1 rocket originally developed by Japan). The satellite is a rather smaller size only weighing 80 kg compared to the current ones, but it is said that was a result of great experimental effort to lift up satellite to the space by the hands of own Japanese engineers.
JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x03.JPGJAXA Tsukuba- satellite x04.JPG      Prior to this, the scientific satellite “Sinsei” (MS-F2, 1971), “Radio observation satellite” (M-4S-4, 1972), “Tansei” (MS-T2, 1974), the high-rise Atmospheric observation satellite “Taiyo”(1975), aurora observation satellite “Kyokko” (EXOS-A, 1978)), and others are found in the development history.

♣  Japan’s past challenges in scientific satellite and exhibits

— Scientific observation and experimental satellites from the 80s and 90s —

JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x05.JPGJAXA Tsukuba- satellite x06.JPG     When it comes to 1980s, many scientific satellites began to launch equipped with various functions. For example, following the “Tansei 4” (MS-T4, 1980), the solar observation satellite “Hinotori” (ASTRO-A, 1981), the high-up atmosphere observation satellite “Oozora” (EXOS-C, 1984), Halley’s Comet Search satellite “Suisei” (PLANET-A), 1985), “Akebono” for magnetosphere observation (EXOS-D), etc.JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x11JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x10

were entered in the space orbit. These are all launched and operated by the Space Science Institute (ISAS).   JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x12.JPG  In the meantime, at the Center exhibition, we can observe NASDA’s technical experimental satellite “Kiku No. 4” (ETS-III, 1982), “Kiku No. 7 named “Orihime” (ETS-VII) which performed docking for multi satellites, and “Kiku No. 8” (ETS-2006) for communication technology development targeted to small terminals, and others.

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x15.JPG     Furthermore, the Center displays a number of satellites used for practical business and social purposes too, such as the satellite “Yuri No. 3” JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x15.JPG(BS-3a) which established the satellite broadcasting network since 1990s, and the new satellite “Ibuki” (GOSAT, 2009) for inspection of greenhouse gas situation, as well as “Daichi” (ALOS, 2006) which purposes to survey terrestrial conditions of earth. By observing the functions of these satellites, we can learn how space satellites are benefited for JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x16.JPGour society and serving for scientific analysis on the earth and universe.

In addition, the satellite “Kaguya “(Selena), launched in 2007, was an observation satellite that took orbits to the moon and it expected to contribute probing the moon in the future. This satellite was named after the Japanese folk story “Taketori Monogatari” and it has conjured a fancy dream and romance to the universe.


♣  Japan’s Scientific Satellite and International Cooperation, and its Exhibits

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x08.JPG     The major exhibition in the Center, by all means, would be a full-scale JAXA Tsukuba- ISS x01.JPGstructural model of Japanese experiment wing “Kibo” (JEM) that is installed in the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is a geostationary spacecraft that keeping orbits 400 km above the earth which built up by collaboration work by U. S., Russia, Japan and Canada.   And astronauts from these countries are staying there to JAXA Tsukuba- ISS x04.JPGjointly conduct scientific research in the various field. The Station Project has started assembling in 1998 and completed in 2011. From Japan, several astronauts, such as Mouri and Wakasa and other staff have already been staying in the station several times and practiced scientific experiments in its Japanese wing.JAXA Tsukuba- ISS x02.JPG

The exhibited “Kibo” is a full-scale model of this wing. And this is the most popular spot for visitors to be able to examine actual environment of inside wing and can directly observe the experimental modules, in addition to JAXA Tsukuba- satellite x18.JPGthe actual working place in and out activities in the space.  Furthermore, the appearance of the robot arm at the outboard position and the docking devices can be watched there.  However, the most crucial issues for maintaining of the function of the space station would be a shipping system of the necessary materials and replacement of astronauts regularly. For this JAXA Tsukuba- ISS x05.JPGpurpose, the satellite “Konotori” (HTV) was used which launched in 2011 in Japan and continuously operated since. This scale real model is  on display as well as an eye-catching object in the Center.

The Japan’s wing was looked rather smaller than I thought, but it was quite effective to figure out of non-gravity world and astronauts’ working conditions that were often aired in TV scene.


♣  Present state of space development in Japan and the display of Hayabusa Project

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x10.JPG However, one of the highlighting issues regarding Japan’s space JAXA Tsukuba- hayabusa x04.JPGexploration might be the touchdown scene of spacecraft “Hayabusa 2” which headed to the asteroid called Ryugu.” This Hayabusa model is displaed as a special object of the exhibition at the Space Center. This Hayabusa was launched from Tanegashima Island by the Japanese rocket H-IIA in 2014, and navigating around one billion kilometers away in the JAXA Tsukuba- hayabusa x02.JPGJAXA Tsukuba- hayabusa x03.JPGuniverse and finally successed to land on the targeted asteroid. The satellite is purposed to probe the surface soil of the planet, take the objects out from it, and to be expected to bring them back to the earth in 2020. And as of July 2019, the ship is on sailing in the universe for returning to the earth.

JAXA Tsukuba- hayabusa x07.JPGJAXA Tsukuba- illust x09     According to Center’s official, Japan’s space satellite operations and communication technology could have been reached that high levels and proven its powerful ability, and even moreover could stir romantic dream to the mystery of universe. It can be said this is an evidence that Japan’s aerospace development, which is started far backwardly in 1950s, now reached to this world level during these 50 years. The scale model is on display with extensive commentary at the venue and many people gathered around there to observe this memorial exhibit.

Beforehand, the first “Hayabusa”, which was launcJAXA Tsukuba- illust x12.JPGhed in 2003 and returned in June 2010, has reached the asteroid “Itokawa” and was success to bring back its tiny topsoil sample.   This was an actually demonstration flight, in a way, to test of the ion engine power, but during the JAXA Tsukuba- hayabusa x08.JPGreturning flight operation, the serious trouble had occurred in the function of communication devices and forced to stray in the universe for more than 5 years without being located, and the project thought to be completely failed. But after the longtime tireless searching, suddenly a slight signal from the satellite was catch by Jaxa staff, and they could barely traced back to recover the flight. It is a really dramatic return to JAXA Tsukuba- hayabusa x09.JPGthe earth. This successful return was dramatized in the TV and movies and greatly inspired Japanese mind.  Until recently, the model of Hayabusa No. 1 was exhibited in the hall (though the display has been replaced by Hayabusa 2’s great success.)      Even so, in the future, if the return of “Hayabusa 2” is successfully done, it is believed that some evidences for asteroid’s organic stuff  might be detected and considered to help approaching a bit to mystery of life origin in the universe. It will be significant to be able to see such a scientific significance in the future.

After the visit

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x18.JPG      The first visit Tsukuba Center was in the fall of 2015, but I decided to revisit it in JAXA Tsukuba- outlook x04.JPGhearing the recent successful landing of Hayabusa 2.  Recently people’s concerns in space development was quite high, and many visitors were visiting the Center to witness the recent advancement of Japan’s space aviation technology. In the exhibition hall, Jaxa staff take us a tour around the Space Dome and they kindly give us necessary information about the exhibits. Then, it is easy to understand the meaning of exhibits on display there. I felt that the exhibition was a really nice facility to get scientific knowledge on the space problems and exploring technology.

JAXA Tsukuba- illust x16.JPG     In the meantime, for one thing, it was interested that Japan’s general approach to space development seems to comprise a lot of romanticism along with scientifically inquisitive.  This was actually reflected in the naming of the satellites. This will be seen in the naming of “Kaguya” and “Hagoromo” based on ancient folklore in Japan, as well as “Kiku” (chrysanthemum), “Yuri”(lily), “Himawari”(sunflower) and “Hayabusa”(falcon) taking names of flowers and birds for them. JAXA Tsukuba- outlook x05.JPG Furthermore, the name of targeted asteroid for sail “Itokawa,” was named after Dr. Itokawa who was a pioneer in space development in Japan, and “Ryugu,” is a legendary oceanic Arcadia. It seems they were deeply reflected a feeling of romance to the universe and plausible exploration history in Japanese mindset. And I found there’s another important space facilities of Jaxa in Sagamihara of Kanagawa prefecture, so I’d like to visit this place in near future. In addition, I thought if I have a chance, I wanted to visit “Uchinoura” and “Tanegashima”, the satellite launching sites in Kagoshima prefecture, one day.



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