JAXA President Monthly Press Conference June 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 June 11 (Fri), 2021
Venue: Online
MC: Kaori Sasaki, Director, Public Affairs Department

Hayabusa2 Returned Sample Curation Underway

At JAXA, asteroid Ryugu samples returned by the Hayabusa2 mission have been curated (preliminary observation and cataloguing of samples), since December 2020, jointly with collaborating universities and research institutions. The curation work consists of three major steps: initial description of samples, a basic process of characterizing them, principally through photomicroscopy, weight and dimension measurement, and appearance analysis, without compromising their scientific value; cataloguing; and data preparation for future internal and external advanced studies.

The curation work is drawing near the end of Phase 1, which has spanned the first six months from December 2020 to around June 2021. In this stage, samples were retrieved, sorted and analyzed for basic understanding. It is planned that samples after the initial description will undergo high-level curation work in Phase 2, scheduled for one year from June 2021, as well as initial analysis. At the same time, basic curation work will continue to be performed for samples remaining.

A portion of the curated Ryugu sample will be provided to NASA under the partnership agreement. Its delivery is scheduled for December 2021. Meanwhile, JAXA will receive a percentage of the sample from asteroid Bennu, when it is delivered back to Earth by the OSIRIS-Rex mission, and we are making necessary preparations.

If all goes according to plan, we will be ready in a year, around June 2022, to place an international announcement of opportunity for sample investigations.

The Phase 1 curation work has progressed as planned and become prepared to move into the next stage. Therefore, Phase 2 curation and initial analysis will be started in a phased manner.

Phase 2 curation work will begin chiefly in the following three areas: sample data acquisition for high-level detailed description; advanced curation technology development; and analysis using the acquired data and developed technologies. These projects will be undertaken by two teams: Phase 2 Curation Team Misasa, hosted by the Institute for Planetary Materials, Okayama University, and Phase 2 Curation Team Kochi, hosted by Kochi Institute for Core Sample Research, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (KOCHI JAMSTEC). Team Misasa will engage in establishing analysis methods using the comprehensive analysis system for terrestrial and extraterrestrial materials (CASTEM) and developing curation data management systems. Team Kochi will work on data acquisition under minimum atmospheric exposure conditions for detailed physical characterization of Ryugu samples as well as development and implementation of extraterrestrial materials linkage analysis techniques in partnership with many research institutions.

Initial analysis will be undertaken by six teams, each led by researchers from different universities, to be in charge of one of the following six areas: 1. chemical analysis; 2. stony material analysis; 3. sandy material analysis; 4. volatile substances analysis; 5. solid organics analysis; and 6. soluble organics analysis.

When carrying out the above Phase 2 high-level curation and initial analysis pragmas, we will draw on the scientific and engineering prowess of individual researchers and research organizations from across Japan. Each program has the potential to produce new landmark findings from investigating Ryugu samples. As a researcher myself, I also have high expectations for this activities.

JAXA has proceeded with the curation work in cooperation with many collaborating universities and research institutions, and in one year, we will have more individuals and organizations to participate in the research from outside Japan. As such, we will continue to promote a range of plans related to sample analysis to ensure that all the participants can fully exercise their abilities.

In addition, we will step up our efforts to enhance Japan’s sample return technology, which has developed into a world-renowned capability as a result of successful Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 missions, seeking to meet global expectations for our near-Earth object (NEO) exploration programs aimed to elucidate the formation of the solar system. For this purpose, we are particularly focusing on MMX (Martian Moons eXploration), a mission under development for the spacecraft to be launched in 2024 and travel back to Earth in 2029. MMX is a sample return mission from a small celestial body, particularly designed to collect surface material from Phobos, a Martian moon, which may contain material originating in Mars, and bring it back to Earth. Also, a successful return of the mission would be the world’s first case, ahead of other countries developing Martian exploration projects, to demonstrate the capability to make a round-trip to and from the Martian system. We will endeavor to be able to fulfill the MMX sample return mission, with a view to heling Japan make significant contribution to international space exploration efforts.

In-Orbit Activity Report from Astronaut HOSHIDE Akihiko onboard the ISS

It is about one and a half months since JAXA Astronaut HOSHIDE Akihiko arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) to start a long-duration stay. He is performing duties as ISS Commander as well as engaging in his tasks assigned to each crew member, such as preparing for experiments to be conducted in the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” and maintaining experimental equipment, as planned while maintaining a proper level of tension.

In the area of experiment preparations, HOSHIDE’s recent major activities were related to the electronic levitation furnace (ELF), for which he ensured proper work for experiment sample replacement to run effective sessions. Other important tasks were for setting up the Confocal Space Microscopy (COSMIC) system, which will be used in experiments aimed to clarify the cellular mechanism of gravity sensing for the purpose of helping prevent amyotrophic symptoms often found in those in microgravity conditions and in a bedridden state for a long time. He also made necessary arrangements for the second Kibo Robot Programming Challenge Final Round, scheduled for coming September, including a technical rehearsal using Astrobee, NASA’s free-flying robotic system.

On June 5, SpaceX’s commercial resupply services spacecraft successfully docked with the ISS to deliver cargo including from JAXA. We are pleased to announce the problem-free on-orbit arrival of our shipment, which contained samples for high-quality protein crystal growth experiments and MIR-SAT1, a CubeSat from the Republic of Mauritius, which was selected from the third round applications submitted under the KiboCube, a small satellite deployment partnership program between the United Nation’s Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and JAXA.

Last night (late hours on June 10 JST), HOSHIDE participated in a public real-time communication event for the first time in the current stay. Participants on the ground were selected from among high school students and corporate representatives across the country who are involved in space activities in some form. In the session, those space-savvy participants asked specialistic questions, driving lively discussions.

HOSHIDE will continue serving as an individual crew member and ISS Commander while working to control tension appropriately. We hope he will carry out a range of duties to complete effectively in close cooperation with the Tsukuba Space Center’s Kibo mission control team and experiment support and other group members.