JAXA President Monthly Press Conference February 2022

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 18 (Fri), 2022
Venue: Online
MC: Kaori Sasaki, Director, Public Affairs Department

Kibo-RPC and update on recruitment of astronaut candidates

JAXA has started accepting applications for the 3rd Kibo Robot Programming Challenge (Kibo-RPC), which will take place in fiscal 2022 under a revised framework.

Kibo-RPC is a programming competition for controlling free-flying robots within the International Space Station (ISS)’s Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo,” and an education program to provide young talent with an opportunity to develop robotic manipulation and computer programming skills in a spacecraft setting. This project has been organized jointly by JAXA and NASA as part of the Japan-U.S. Open Platform Partnership Program, particularly targeting students from the Asia-Pacific region including Japan with an aim to expand the use of Kibo by Asian regions.

The game takes place in an onboard space in Kibo. Participants create programs to control free-flying robots within the space in order to solve multiple challenges set according to the provided story and rules. They compete on the speed and performance of solving each challenge.

For more details, please refer to our webpage to call for entry to the 3rd Kibo-RPC/Kibo-RPC 3rd mission.

I would like to give some updates on the recruitment of new astronaut candidates. The application period started on December 20, 2021 and is scheduled to end March 4, 2022. However, the due date solely for submitting the health examination report (health certificate) has been extended one month to April 4, 2022 (Monday) at noon. This step is taken in consideration of the situation concerning COVID-19 in Japan where thorough measures need to be implemented to prevent the ongoing spread of the virus, as well as wishing to allow planned applicants sufficient time for preparation despite the current situation.

As of February 18, 2022, at 9:00 am, we have registered a total of 10,014 applications through the dedicated website. Out of the registered applications, 177 have completed the process with all required documents submitted. The male-to-female ratio of the accepted applicants is 84 to 16 at present.

We will report the number of accepted applications (complete with entry sheet, health declaration, health examination report) on the afternoon of March 4 (Friday), the last day of the original application period, before announcing the final number, including those with the delayed health examination report, on the afternoon of April 4 (Monday), the due date for submitting the health examination report.

Starting demonstration use of Today’s Earth-Japan flood forecast data at municipalities

Flooding is becoming more frequent and severe apparently due to climate change, posing a grave challenge to many countries around the world. In Japan, major flood control measures are developed based on the river basin management approach that involves cooperation among all parties located in related areas, including the national and municipal governments, industries and individual residents. This approach is promoted as part of the government-led climate change adaptation strategies, which note the importance of promoting disaster prevention and mitigation measures by enhancing facilities and information technologies together.

In a bid to support the above efforts, JAXA, together with the University of Tokyo, Nagoya University, Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co., Ltd. (ANDI) and Nagano Prefectural Government, has launched a research project to provide flood forecast data to the Nagano Prefectural Government office via the special version of “cmap” site for their exclusive use (hereafter, “cmap Nagano version”), assess the effect of applying forecast data to an actual social context, and improve and upgrade forecast accuracy and systems. The joint project was selected in October 2021 by the Japan Science and Technology Agency as a JST-MIRAI Program (New Social Challenges mission).

More specifically, the project plan is to feed flood forecast data up to over 30 hours before occurrence, enabled by the Today’s Earth-Japan (TE-J) land surface water monitoring/simulation system developed and operated jointly by JAXA and the University of Tokyo, into a program exclusively accessible to the Nagano Prefectural Government office from ANDI’s cmap Nagano version site that posts real-time damage prediction data.

The project was designed to be a demonstration to verify achievements of the TE-J project, and initiated in January 2022 by opening the “cmap Nagano version” site exclusive to the Nagano Prefectural Government office. The demonstration aims to help with the development of municipal river basin management plans based on climate forecast data, thereby also assessing effectiveness of forecast data utilization. To further promote the project, study sessions and workshops will be organized for all the 77 municipalities in the prefecture and other local stakeholders, looking to identify the effect of the forecast technology on local communities’ function. JAXA and the University of Tokyo will use results of the ongoing demonstration to develop additional programs to be introduced across the country.

As stated earlier, in order to effectively prepare for ever-severer, climate change-induced flood disasters, it is essential to enhance facilities and information technologies at once, specifically by improving climate forecast accuracy and the strength of flood control facilities, such as dams and levees. By promoting the ongoing joint research project, we will enhance the application of forecast data to river basin management systems and develop many more advanced programs, aiming to contribute to overcoming social issues, including disaster prevention and mitigation.

Findings from Hayabusa2 observation data studies (published in Science)

Observation data collected by Hayabusa2 and analysis data of asteroid Ryugu samples returned by the mission are undergoing earnest studies of many researchers in and outside of Japan. An article on important findings from one of such studies was published in Science Magazine on February 11, 2022 (JST).

The article was written principally by TACHIBANA Shogo, specially appointed professor at JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science and Professor at the University of Tokyo, and the Hayabusa2 sampler team. The article concludes that Ryugu samples returned to Earth are a representative sample of the asteroid, based on relevant analysis results described in the same report.

I would like to emphasize the significance of the above-stated conclusion for the purpose of analyzing the overall structure and historical formation process of the asteroid, as we understand. The reason is that, in order to proceed with future analysis studies, theory construction, and approach establishment, it is vitally important to have and share the assumption that the returned samples are “no exceptional” namely, “representative.”

Keys to confirming the above conclusion were provided by observation data, used for comparison with returned sample analysis data. A range of observation systems were mobilized to collect substantial data by different approaches and at different levels of scale, which include: remote sensing observations of the entire asteroid multipoint surface observations by the MINERVA-II1 Rover; a series of images captured by a small monitor camera head (CAM-H) and a wide-angle optical navigation camera mounted on the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. These data were fully utilized by the research team to conduct comparisons with returned sample analysis results, which comprehensively confirmed the conclusion.

CAM-H Images show pebbles and sand, ejecta from touchdown impacts, at a landing site of Hayabusa2, while data from MINERVA-II1 and the wide-angle optical navigation camera present clear images of boulders on Ryugu’s surface., These optical images commonly showed particles with flat, elongated shapes, particles with clearly visible irregularities, and particles with smooth shapes, which proved to be consistent with those of samples returned to Earth through the team’s elaborate comparative surveys. This provides a sufficient reason for the conclusion that returned materials of Ryugu are a representative sample of the asteroid. This represents a fruit of exhaustive research efforts based on the spirit of scientific quest of making full use of data available.

The production of the CAM-H aboard Hayabusa2 that provided the above important data was funded by donations from many people supporting the mission. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation for all your support to space science research endeavors, which has helped bring about the recent achievement.

We have created the Ryugu sample catalog, which went on public view last month (January 2022), with the objective of rInternational Announcement of Opportunity for HAYABUSA2 Samples Investigation. We will also continue publishing articles and papers on preliminary analysis results. We hope these publications will inspire a lot of unique research proposals in and outside of Japan.