JAXA President Monthly Press Conference February 2021

JAXA President Monthly Press Conference

Speech Abstracts by Hiroshi Yamakawa, President of JAXA
Date and time: From 1:30 - 2:15 p.m. on February 19 (Fri), 2021
Venue: Online
MC: Akiko Suzuki, Director, Public Affairs Department

Acquisitoinand Tracking Established between Optical Communication Payload Aboard Optical Data Relay Satellite And NICT Optical Ground Station

At Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the optical communication payload for Laser Utilizing Communication System (LUCAS) aboard an optical data relay satellite, which was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on November 29, 2020, is undergoing on-orbit checkout processes for operation and performance. In demonstration tests started from January 27, 2021, as part of the checkout processes, bidirectional optical links were established between the LUCAS payload and the optical ground station of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) across a 40,000 km distance, which achieved signal capture and tracking functions.

For actual communication, the optical data relay satellite will couple with low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, such as ALOS-3. In the recent test, the NICT’s optical ground station acted as an LEO satellite. Test results have confirmed capabilities of the satellite and ground systems to perform properly in outer space as designed, specifically for functions to capture signals from each other and exhibit adequate tracking abilities to maintain communication. This is the most critical technology element of the LUCAS, which enables a pair of systems 40,000 km away from each other to capture and track signals from the other within 0.5 km diameter.

ALOS-3, whose scheduled launch has been postponed, is subject to demonstrate on-orbit optical communication operations in a pair with the LUCAS. We will work to achieve results, including the recent success, one by one, to ensure steady progress.

Also, an optical link demonstration was conducted successfully with Hayabusa2, which has embarked on an expanded mission in December 2020 after the separation of its re-entry capsule. We confirmed effective laser light communication links established between ground systems and the LIDER mounted on the asteroid explorer, which is traveling farther away from Earth.

In the highlight of the demonstration, Hayabusa2 established bidirectional optical links with the Côte d'Azur Observatory Grasse Station on two separate days―December 9 and 21, 2020. The distance between the two systems during the first and second session were 1,000,000 km and 6,000,000 km, respectively. In addition, we confirmed that Hayabusa2 received uplink optical communication from NICT’s Koganei Station and the Mount Stromlo Satellite Laser Ranging facility in Australia.

The recent optical link demonstration involving Hayabusa2 has produced a number of significant results, including: the establishment of daytime links despite disturbance due to solar noise; and accumulation of technical knowledge for future possibility of deep space laser ranging missions and highly accurate orbit determination.

Demonstrating Japan’s First Geostationary Satellite GPS Navigation Technology

The second topic is also related to the optical data relay satellite. Using the geostationary satellite GPS receiver (GPSR) aboard the optical data relay satellite, JAXA has confirmed capabilities for stable real-time, continued control of GPS navigation in geostationary orbit. The GPSR, developed jointly by JAXA, NEC Corporation and NEC Space Technologies, Ltd., is equipped to capture, track and decode even weak GPS signals, target technologies to be demonstrated.

The GPS navigation technology has already been introduced in LEO satellites and applied for various purposes, such as highly accurate orbit determination, accurate time reference for satellite-mounted systems, and autonomous orbit control supported by mounted systems. However, this technology was previously difficult to apply to geostationary orbit satellites. These satellites orbit at a higher altitude than GPS satellites, and thus cannot receive signals sent from GPS satellites toward Earth. GPS signals can reach the geostationary orbit on the other side of Earth, but after traveling a long distance, they have become too weak to be reliably received by satellites on the orbit.

For this technology to function, in principle, the GPSR needs to receive signals from at least four GPS satellites. The demonstrated GPSR captured and track signals from eight or nine satellites on average and performed GPS navigation control in a stable and continuous manner.

Reliable GPS navigation technology capabilities for geostationary satellites will bring significant benefits to satellite operation, such as: improved orbit determination accuracy; autonomous real-time, highly accurate orbit information use, a key process to automatic orbit control; and increased efficiency in ground system operations.

Based on achievements from the recent demonstration, NEC Space Technologies will develop GPSR products to sell to the commercial and non-commercial geostationary satellite markets. This will facilitate widespread use of the GPS navigation technology for geostationary satellites. Going forward, JAXA will improve the GPSR to be mounted on the Engineering Test Satellite-9 (ETS-9), currently under development, for the purpose of using it for an autonomous orbit control demonstration.

Cooperation with European Space Agency

On February 4, 2021, I held an online bilateral meeting with Dr. Jan Wörner, Director General of European Space Agency (ESA). We shared with each other updates of cooperative activities between the two agencies in various areas related to earth observation, space science and space exploration, and confirmed the intention to maintain and enhance the cooperative relationships.

Taking this opportunity, we concluded two cooperation agreements, concerning “Hera,” an ESA-led mission to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system, and the “Martian Moons eXploration (MMX),” a JAXA-led mission.
Hera is an ESA-led international planetary defense mission, which represents the European contribution to the Europe-US joint Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

The mission consists of two space probes―DART, NASA’s asteroid impactor, and Hera, ESA’s asteroid explorer―and aims to turn this grand-scale joint experiment into a repeatable planetary defense technique in order to deflect asteroids on a possible collision course with Earth.

Under this agreement, JAXA will contribute to the Hera mission by providing the thermal infrared camera, the same model as mounted on Hayabusa2, and offering science collaboration.

JAXA is now proceeding with the MMX mission with the aim of clarifying the origin of the Martian moons and the evolution process of the Martian sphere. The spacecraft is planned to observe the two moons―Phobos and Deimos―and land on Phobos, collecting surface samples to bring back to Earth. As such, MMX is an internationally high-profile sample return mission.

The recent agreement is for ESA to contribute to the MMX mission, through providing JAXA with onboard communication components for the MMX probe, assisting in spacecraft tracking control from ESA’s ground stations, and offering science collaboration.

Going forward, JAXA will continue promoting international cooperation in the space exploration area with European and other countries.

Updates on Astronaut Noguchi on ISS and Astronaut Hoshide in Preparation for Launch

Astronaut Noguchi is aboard the International Space Station (ISS), engaging in on-orbit tasks as planned. Particularly on Kibo, he is preparing a solid combustion experiment module (SCEM) to be installed for Flammability Limits at Reduced Gravity Experiment (FLARE), a program to assess the effect of gravity on solid-state combustion for the purpose of improving the flame proof performance of solid materials.

Astronaut Noguchi is also preparing for the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) mission to capture the NG-15 Cygnus resupply spacecraft, scheduled for 18:40 on February 22 (JST). NG-15, manufactured by Northrop Grumman, is planned to be launched soon aboard the Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, U.S. This is one of the critical tasks to ISS activities along with scheduled extravehicular activities. I believe that NOGUCHI will fulfill the coming mission, demonstrating his strong skills based on experience and training.

Astronaut Hoshide is undergoing training ahead of the launch of SpaceX Crew-2, the second crewed operational flight of Crew Dragon, a US commercial spacecraft, together with the other three crew members. In past January and February, sessions for the flight on Crew Dragon were held in the facility of SpaceX based in California, U.S., and those for ISS missions held in Russia and Germany. At present, the crew are engaged in ongoing training programs in Houston in Texas, U.S.