JAXA President Monthly Press Conference May 2020

JAXA President Monthly Press Conference

Speech Abstracts by Hiroshi Yamakawa, President of JAXA
Date and time: From 1:30 - 2:15 p.m. on May 15 (Fri), 2020
Venue: Online
MC: Akiko Suzuki, Director, Public Affairs Department

JAXA Projects under the Declaration of a State of Emergency in Response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

We are currently facing the crisis of the coronavirus spread both at home and abroad. We would like to express our condolences to those who lost their lives as a result of the coronavirus infection. We would also like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all healthcare professionals who perform polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and treatment, as well as to their families for their support.

Yesterday, the government lifted the state of emergency in all but eight prefectures. The situation, however, has yet to be completely under control. There have been cases overseas where the virus infection spread again after lockdowns were lifted. It is necessary, therefore, to remain vigilant and take measures to prevent the spread of the virus infection such as the restriction of nonessential outings and travel across prefectures.

Under the circumstances, we had to cancel our regular press conference in March and April. But as the launch of HTV9 is approaching, we decided to hold a remote press conference via the Web today to explain JAXA's efforts and the current situation during this period. As this is our first time to hold a remote press conference, it may inconvenience you but I appreciate your kind understanding and cooperation.

As I mentioned at the regular press conference in January, this year will be a year of challenge for JAXA and Japan's space development. The coronavirus infection is now spreading worldwide, threatening the safety of many people and heavily impacting economic activities and social life.

On February 18, JAXA established the coronavirus response headquarters, which is headed by me (JAXA President) and composed of all Directors Generals and Associate Director Generals. The headquarters continuously collect information, provide information to directors and employees, formulate measures to prevent the virus infection and business continuity plan (BCP), as well as to communicate and coordinate with relevant organizations. We have also been gradually working to improve the remote working environment, refraining from conducting events and closing down exhibit facilities. Following the declaration of a state of emergency by the government of Japan, all offices were basically closed in accordance with the BCP formulated by the coronavirus response headquarters and only the minimum number of personnel necessary for the continuation of important projects are allowed to come to work. This is the first time for many of JAXA’s directors and employees to shift to telework. Although there are some difficulties such as maintaining information security, all of directors and employees are on the same page and work under the current conditions. This arrangement has made it possible for JAXA as a whole to successfully reduce the number of employees who come to the office by at least 70% as required by the government. Unfortunately, the welcoming ceremony for new employees, which was scheduled to be held on April 1, was cancelled. But new employees, after taking all training courses online including lectures connected to various operating facilities such as the Tanegashima and Kakuda space centers, are now teleworking at their first places of assignment just like other directors and employees. In addition, almost all of our daily meetings including those of Director Generals are held online. I feel that the current telework arrangement is gradually taking root.

In JAXA's BCP, the top priority is to maintain the safety of our personnel and all concerned by preventing the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, we regard the following as “important works:” 1) The operation of the International Space Station including astronauts and the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo;” 2) The operation of preventing the loss of orbiting satellites and probes; and 3) The launches scheduled in this fiscal year (HTV9 and the first H3 Launch Vehicle etc.). We are performing these “important works” with the minimum number of personnel as needed.

We are planning to finally launch “KOUNOTORI9” by the H-IIB Launch Vehicle on May 21. Again, we are preparing for the success of this mission with our international partners while paying close attention to the spread of infection not only in Japan but also abroad and making every effort possible to prevent the virus infection to our staff and all concerned. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the local communities for their understanding and cooperation. I really appreciate the people’s continued understanding about the mission of JAXA.

Assuming that the spread of the coronavirus infection does not subside and the declaration of the current state of emergency may be prolonged, we are now assessing the impact on each project and examining response measures. At this point, there is no significant change in JAXA's project plans for the current fiscal year. We would like to carefully advance our projects by making every possible effort with understanding and support from all concerned, while continuing to monitor the situation both domestically and internationally and making it the top priority to prevent the spread of virus infection.

Under normal circumstances, I would be able to give you the details of JAXA’s new executive appointments as of April 1, but I would like to do so on another occasion.

Status of the H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI9 (HTV9), a Cargo Transporter to the International Space Station

KOUNOTORI9, a cargo transporter to the International Space Station (ISS), is scheduled to be launched at around 2:30 a.m. on May 21 from the JAXA Tanegashima Space Center toward the ISS. KOUNOTORI9 will be the final mission for the current KOUNOTORI (HTV) program.

As you know, KOUNOTORI, along with the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo,” has played an indispensable role in the transportation of goods, which is one of Japan's most important measures for international contribution to the ISS project in cooperation with 15 countries. It's no exaggeration to say that this is an essential effort to maintain the lifeline of the ISS.

KOUNOTORI9, the last in the series, will be loaded with a new lithium-ion battery cell, which is the replacement for the ISS battery that supports the foundation of the ISS operations. New battery cells have been transported to the ISS since the KOUNOTORI6 mission, on four different occasions as planned, and this will be the last time. The old model battery cell has been used for more than 10 years, well beyond its 6.5-year design life, and need to be replaced as soon as possible. In addition, KOUNOTORI9 is responsible for supplying about 30% of the onboard goods including water and foods needed for the ISS operations in 2020. We are doing our best to accomplish these important missions.

We are currently preparing for the launch at the Tanegashima Space Center and for the operations of KOUNOTORI9 at the Tsukuba Space Center while doing utmost to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In this way, the most important mission of KOUNOTORI9 is to ensure that it will transport the battery cell indispensable for the operation of the ISS and essential goods such as water and foods to maintain the ISS and protect the safety of astronauts. In addition, KOUNOTORI9 will also transport a variety of experimental equipment needed for future space activities, life sciences and medical sciences, etc.

I would like to explain one of the experimental equipment as an example. There is a technical demonstration, which is an “on-orbit demonstration mission of Wireless LAN transmission of docking monitoring image.” In this experiment, a camera installed on KOUNOTORI9 will record its move while “approaching the ISS,” “being moored at the ISS,” and “separating from the ISS,” which will be transmitted in real time to the ISS via Wireless LAN. This mission is necessary for conducting the demonstration of automated rendezvous docking with the ISS in the future.

Since the opening of the Tanegashima Space Center, we have continued to launch rockets with the understanding and cooperation of local people, and with the support of everyone.

Currently, JAXA, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and other companies involved in the launch are minimizing the number of workers coming and going to Tanegashima Island and making thorough efforts to prevent the novel coronavirus from being brought into the island and the spread of infection.

【Measures to Prevent the Novel Coronavirus from Being Brought into the Island】

  • When going to the island from outside, workers’ temperature are checked for 14 days prior to their trip. If they have cold symptoms (including relatively mild cold symptoms such as fever or cough, or if they feel something wrong with their taste or smell), they are not allowed to travel to the island.

【Measures to Prevent the Spread of Infection on the Island】

  • Workers entering the island from outside are required to refrain from going out for 14 days after arriving at the island unless necessary to do so to maintain their living. They are also required to wear a mask at all times.
  • Every day before going to work, all workers on the island including those stationed at the island check their temperature. If they have cold symptoms (including relatively mild cold symptoms such as fever or cough, or if they feel something wrong with their taste or smell), they are required to stay home.
  • In order to avoid the “three Cs,” which are crowded spaces, closed spaces, and close-contact settings, we have taken measures such as minimizing the number of travelers, ventilating regularly and dispersing meeting rooms.

Local municipalities on Tanegashima Island have requested people to refrain from watching the launch on site. In response, we are asking the general public on the JAXA website to refrain from watching the launch on site.

As we have also decided not to provide any opportunity to media outlets to cover the event on Tanegashima Island, we request members of the media to kindly refrain from reporting on the island.

On the day of KOUNOTORI9 launch, we are planning to broadcast a live stream of the launch on the JAXA official YouTube channel. We will appreciate your continued support and coverage of the event through the Internet and other means.

Finally, I would like to introduce "STAY HOME with JAXA,” which has been opened on the JAXA’s website. Due to the continuous request for voluntary restraint on outings, we are providing contents unique to JAXA for both children and adults to enjoy as they have fewer opportunities to go out. This includes videos, messages and advice on ways to spend time in a closed space from astronauts who work in the confined space in the ISS, as well as images of the Earth taken by JAXA's Earth Observation Satellites, which we hope will help people STAY HOME.