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The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) came into being on October 1 2003 with the merger of the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS). It is an independent administrative unit whose objectives include scientific missions in orbit as well as those carried out on sounding rockets, plus development of its own launch systems. The agency’s long term objectives are outlined in JAXA2025 and can be broadly defined as succeeding in research and development missions that will contribute to peace and happiness of humankind.
Giant Launch Vehicle
Japan has a large-scale launch vehicle called H-IIA, which is a liquid fueled rocket used for launching satellites into geostationary orbit. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries manufactures the H-IIA for JAXA, which launches from the Tanegashima Space Center, located on an island 115 kilometers south of Kyushu. This launch facility is where JAXA assembles, tests, and launches vehicles. There is an engine test facility as well. JAXA shifted production and management of the HII-A to Mitsubishi in 2007. The launch of the lunar orbiter SELENE was the first H-IIA launched after the privatization.
The H-IIA was designed after the earlier H-II rocket, but it has undergone numerous modifications to get costs under control and improve reliability. The earlier models were quite expensive and prone to failure, but the H-IIA has a much better track record. In fact, the H-IIA has achieved one of the highest ratios of performance to cost in the world, dramatically bringing down the cost of launches.
… And Others
The large scale launch capabilities are not all there is to JAXA’s repertoire. JAXA also uses smaller rockets for short term experiments. One example is the January 2009 launch of an S-310-39 rocket at the Andoya Rocket Range in Norway. With a launch angle of 77.5 degrees, the launch was able to study the energetic phenomenon in the lower polar thermosphere in the presence of active aurora. At 56 seconds after liftoff, the rocket’s yo-yo despinner activated and the nose cone opened. The rocket collected the data it was supposed to once it reached 140 km above the earth, then splashed down in the ocean to the north of Andoya.
Satellites launched into orbit by JAXA have collected large amounts of scientific data over the years. The Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite called IBUKI even obtained images of the total solar eclipse over Japan on July 22, 2009. A small scientific satellite called Reimei was carried “piggyback” on a Russian Dnepr launch vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in 2005. That observation satellite also proved to be an advance in launch efficiency, because it was able to use excess carrying capacity from the large Russian launch vehicle.
The Kibo Module
JAXA’s most recent accomplishment is the completion of the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility, the largest single module on the International Space Station. The first two pieces of the Kibo module, which will allow astronauts to perform science experiments exposed to the vacuum of space, were installed during the shuttle flight of March 2008 - STS-123 and the one in May/June, 2008 - STS-124. The third and final components of the Kibo module waw launched on the July 2009 flight of Endeavour, STS-127.