The information on this page was published in the past, thus it may be different from the current status.
To check the date of issuance, please refer to the following URL for the list of interviews, or for the list of special articles.

Space development that balances the practical with the academic

Q. The most important task for Japan is setting up a satellite positioning system. How will JAXA contribute to this effort?

Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) MICHIBIKI
Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) MICHIBIKI

With the spread of GPS-enabled automobiles and smartphones, positioning information is becoming an essential part of our lives. Right now Japan relies entirely on American GPS satellites, and even though there’s demand for more precise services, there is a limit to what we can do using only that system. The purpose of launching MICHIBIKI in 2010 is to improve position accuracy by using it in conjunction with the U.S. GPS. Last June we started providing position signals to complement GPS, thus demonstrating MICHIBIKI’s technical and practical feasibility.

As a result, the construction of a positioning system with quasi-zenith satellites (our Japanese-made positional satellite technology) will be made a key priority for Japan. While our country continues to use the American GPS for the time being, our policy is that building an independent system in the future is feasible. When the government decides on a plan to launch future positional satellites, I’d like JAXA to make technical contributions to set up the systems just like we’ve been doing. I expect that the results of the MICHIBIKI technical demonstration will be a step towards Japan’s QZSS making a tangible contribution, and linking with satellite positioning systems in other countries.

Q. In 2010, the United States announced a space exploration policy that will send manned flights to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars by the mid-2030s. Could you tell us about Japan’s future space exploration plans?

Asteroid Explorer HAYABUSA 2
Asteroid Explorer HAYABUSA 2

The sixth meeting of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) was held in Kyoto in August 2011. The ISEGG is a private group of fourteen space agencies, including NASA and the European Space Agency, which discuss matters relating to space exploration. For last year’s meeting, which JAXA participated in, the ISECG drafted two proposals for a roadmap outlining the next 25 years of manned space exploration. We proposed that going to the Moon or to an asteroid should happen before exploring Mars, and these proposals were influenced by the U.S. space policy. I think that based on these roadmaps, the countries of the world will come to consider how we should each engage in space development.

As for scientific exploration with probes, the HAYABUSA 2 asteroid probe program started up last fiscal year. We plan to launch in 2014 or 2015. The plan is to go to a carbonaceous (C-class) asteroid and bring back a sample of organic matter that we expect will help reveal how life on Earth began. We are also continuing to collaborate with Europe on BepiColombo, a program to send a probe to Mercury, which is now in the planning phase. After that we’re considering exploring Jupiter and Saturn, but we haven’t talked about specifics yet. However, IKAROS, the small solar sail demonstrator that we launched in 2010, was developed with an eye toward future exploration of Jupiter and the space around it. IKAROS is the first machine in the world to spread its sail in space and demonstrate the feasibility of using sunlight for acceleration and cruising through space.

There are many things to explore in space, so not every country has to go to the same place. I’d like us to focus on different things, to some degree, to explore the solar system.

Strengthening partnerships in Asia

Q. JAXA has engaged in partnerships with other Asian countries, through the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF). What sort of results has that brought about?

The second Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS), successor to DAICHI, under consideration
The second Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS), successor to DAICHI, under consideration

The APRSAF is a gathering of space agencies from the Asia-Pacific region that Japan leads and also established. Last December we held the 18th session of the APRSAF in Singapore. In the last six years, we’ve launched a number of specific projects, so the meetings are more than a simple exchange of information. One of these is Sentinel Asia, an initiative to use satellites to collect information and manage disasters. In Step 1 of Sentinel Asia, we provided information online that primarily consisted of images from DAICHI. In the current Step 2, other countries have been providing satellite observation data. I believe we were able to construct an incredibly fine system.

Other than that, we’ve also started the SAFE project, which tackles environmental problems using space technology, and the STAR project, whose purpose is to train people from the Asia-Pacific region in the field of satellite development. As the STAR program is shifting towards greater ties with Japanese universities via the UNIFORM (University International Formation Mission) project, we have come to a stage where university students are to actually build small operational satellites with some help from their professors.

We also had a proposal from Australia for a new project relating to climate change, so I think we’ll form a new team for that this year. At the 18th APRSAF summit, Japan proposed and received approval to start the Kibo Utilization Project, to encourage other Asian countries to use the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module.

Because of concrete actions such as these, we have stimulated more interest in space utilization among countries in the Asia-Pacific region and added more APRSAF members each year. Accordingly, I think it would be good if, instead of Japan leading APRSAF alone, we could form a leadership council consisting of the major member countries, so that we can further enhance partnerships throughout Asia.

Understanding citizens’ needs and aiming for mission success

Q. How does JAXA go about understanding the needs of industry, scientists and others as they relate to Japanese space development? Also, how would you like to respond to these needs?

Since JAXA is Japan’s sole aerospace exploration agency, it is vital for us to continue to understand the needs of our citizens. We keep in touch with industry through the JAXA Industrial Collaboration and Coordination Center. For example, we collaborate on projects such as protein production experiments on Kibo, as well as the development of new space-related businesses and products. We also build collaborative relationships with the space hardware industry to manufacture rockets and satellites. As for scientists’ needs, we maintain relationships with academic societies and university research institutes in various fields, with the Steering Committees for Space Science and Space Engineering at the JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science acting as our point of contact. Regarding the ISS, we have formed the Kibo Utilization Promotion Committee, where we receive advice from scientists.

This is how we hear about current opinions and visions from industry and scientists, so that we can respond to their wishes to the best of our ability. But in the end, matters related to space development are governed by the space policy of the Japanese government. This is why I would like us to carry out our responsibility to explain things to the government and the general public, and to strive to have everyone’s needs reflected in the country’s space policy.

Q. Please tell us about JAXA’s major missions and aspirations for 2012.

Global Change Observation Mission 1st – Water, SHIZUKU
Global Change Observation Mission 1st – Water, SHIZUKU

In addition to launching SHIZUKU, which will be the first satellite for the Global Change Observation Mission - Water (GCOM-W), and the space-station supply ship KOUNOTORI 3, astronaut Akihiko Hoshide is scheduled for a long-term ISS mission that will last around six months. I’d like to ensure the success of these missions and meet the public’s expectations. SHIZUKU will observe rainfall on Earth and reveal the mechanisms behind the water cycle, thus helping us come up with measures to deal with environmental problems such as water shortages and flooding. This will be our second satellite to be put into orbit for the purpose of monitoring the Earth’s environment. The first was IBUKI, the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT), launched in 2009. As the world’s only satellite observing greenhouse gases, IBUKI should have another very busy year.

2012 is the final year of JAXA’s second five-year Mid-Term Plan, which began in April 2008. I’d like us to keep tackling new challenges and to prepare to carry out our programs.

1   2