Tag Archives: JAXA

Hayabusa 2 has arrived!

JAXA has confirmed the engine burn to allow Ryugu to capture Hayabusa 2.  Up close, the asteroid doesn’t look quite as clearly octahedral, but it’s still showing a remarkable diamond silhouette.  The surface is battered, but not in the manner we’re used to seeing with larger bodies.  The craters have soft edges, and the surface in general looks more like a clump of fine particles with occasional rocks stuck in it, probably reflecting a relatively loose composition.

The spacecraft is expected to stay at Ryugu for 18 months, during which it will make a series of daring touch-and-go landings, deploy a series of landing vehicles, and even launch an impactor at the asteroid.  It will also attempt to collect material using a feed horn device similar to that used on the original Hayabusa.  At the end of its stay, Hayabusa 2 will fire its engines to leave orbit around Ryugu and head back to Earth, with arrival scheduled for 2020.  The original mission returned only a tiny amount of material, but enough to make comparisons to what Hayabusa 2 will return.  The exciting part of the mission is only just beginning!


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Michibiki 4 (QZS-4) launched aboard H-IIA

A Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket placed the Michibiki 4 spacecraft into orbit yesterday.  This is the latest element of Japan’s indigenous satellite navigation constellation.  The Michibiki constellation, which means “guiding the way”, is also called QZS – quasi-zenith satellite – because the complementary orbits of the four spacecraft will ensure that there is always a satellite near the zenith (as long as you’re in the Eastern Hemisphere, anyway, and particularly near a band from Japan to Australia).  They are all intended to operate at geosynchronous altitude, much higher than the GPS constellation, but at a significant inclination.  Geostationary satellites orbit on the plane of the Earths’ equator, which allows them to appear fixed in the sky.  Since these have an inclined orbit, they will trace a figure-8 pattern in the sky over the course of a day.  This variation will give GPS receivers something to track.  Yes, I did say GPS — Japan says this will be fully compatible with GPS signals.  It will be particularly beneficial in the dense urban areas of Japan, where GPS struggles to be accurate due to all the buildings blocking satellite signals.  With satellites that stand high in the sky all the time, it will be much easier to get enough signals for a fix.

This was H-IIA’s thirty-sixth launch.

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HTV space debris experiment is a bust — better luck next time!

The Kuonotori-6, the latest H2 Transfer Vehicle (HTV) to fly from Japan to the ISS, also carried a space debris experiment.  After completing its cargo delivering mission (including delivery of the first set of new batteries for the station’s main power system) and loading up with trash and an old set of batteries, it departed the ISS on January 27.  Not ones to waste a good opportunity, JAXA had equipped it to carry out additional experiments between undocking and its ultimate fiery demise.  For this mission, it carried an electrodynamic tether which, when fully unspooled, would stretch half a mile into space, to test the effectiveness of such a system in passively lowering a satellite’s orbit purely through interaction with the Earth’s ionosphere.

Unfortunately, they ran into problems during deployment.  First, one of the four bolts holding the tether’s counterweight failed to separate on the first try.  On a second attempt, telemetry indicated that the bolt finally separated, but the tether still would not deploy.  Possibly the bolt did not fully separate, or possibly there was some other problem with the mechanism; JAXA engineers will certainly be closely evaluating the telemetry before attempting the experiment again.  One thing is certain: they will not be attempting again with this spacecraft: after abandoning the tether deployment, Kuonotori-6 was deorbited last Sunday, making a self-destructive reentry over the South Pacific.

Still, Japanese engineers do not tend to give up easily, so I expect they will try again.  They’ll have additional opportunities: although HTV does not fly as often as many other ISS cargo ships, it is vital for delivery of the new batteries for the main power system.  New methods for disposal of space hardware is urgently needed; if successful, tethers like this could even be used on things like spent rocket stages, since it is a completely passive system and doesn’t weigh much.  Being able to dispose of spent hardware means it doesn’t stick around to contribute to the growing problem of space debris.

So here’s hoping they can get it working next time!

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Three days, three launches: ERG, Star One D1/JCSAT 15, and TanSat

2016 is wrapping up with some fireworks: three orbital rocket launches this week, and then possibly up to three more next week!

First off, on Tuesday, the Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace, or ERG, spacecraft (to be renamed Arase after postlaunch checkout, after a river near the launch site) blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center on the island of Kyushu, Japan, atop an Epsilon rocket.  The all-solid-prop Epsilon is a lower-cost replacement to the legacy Mu series of lighter-weight rockets, designed to require a very small launch team and capable of rapid deployment and hopefully to become a strong commercial contender internationally.  This is only its second flight.  Epsilon’s prime contractor is IHI Aerospace; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which builds the much larger H-II rocket, is a supplier, as is NEC.  The payload, ERG, will be operated by JAXA on a highly elliptical orbit that will force it to pass repeatedly through the Van Allen Belts for the purpose of better understanding them.  It will join two NASA spacecraft already on that mission, permitting three-way observation.

Then there were two launches yesterday.  First, from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana, an Ariane V heavy lift rocket lifted two commsats to geosynchronous transfer orbit: Star One D1, to provide television and telecommunications services to South America for Embratel Star One of Brazil, and JCSAT 15, to provide television services for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp of Japan.


And then overnight, a scientific Earth observation satellite designed to monitor CO2 levels, TanSat, launched into polar orbit aboard a Long March 2D rocket from Jiuquan in northern China.  The spacecraft will be capable of mapping CO2 concentrations down to four parts per million worldwide, and also carries instruments relating to cloud and aerosol detection.  Don’t be alarmed by all the sparklies you see falling — those are sheets of ice illuminated by the brilliant rocket plume.  Ice formation is extremely common on liquid-propellant rockets, since the oxidizer at minimum is chilled to cryogenic temperatures.

All of these launches were completely successful.  There are three more launches planned for 2016, and hopefully they will go just as well: another Long March 2D, a Long March 3B, and a Proton.

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Cargo to the ISS resumes, with HTV “Kounotori-6”

An H-2B rocket blasted off from Tanegashima Launch Center in Japan early this morning, carrying the sixth H-2 Transfer Vehicle on its climb to the International Space Station.  Alas, there was not much time to add cargo following the loss of the last Progress, and HTV cannot make up for the lost propellant (as with the retirement of ATV, Progress is the only means of refueling Zvezda), but it adds a lot of comfortable margin into the stores on board ISS.

The principle payload of this mission is a six new lithium-ion batteries carried in Kounotori-6’s unpressurized payload bay.  These large batteries are intended to replace the batteries in the power supply of the US segment. A s they are lighter and more efficient, one battery is able to do the job of two of the old batteries.  Later on, they will be extracted from Kounotori-6 and subsequently installed in the S4 truss via Dextre, the “Canada Hand” Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator.  Dextre will also pull nine of the old batteries and stow them aboard Kounotori-6 for disposal when the spacecraft deliberately deorbits after its mission.  Additional batteries will go up on the next three HTV flights.

The pressurized compartment will deliver food, water, clothing, tools, spare parts, research payloads, computer equipment, spacesuit components, a small amount of Russian cargo, a new radiation monitoring experiment, some new cameras to be mounted outside the Kibo module later on for JAXA, fresh CO2 scrubber components, and a dozen CubeSats, which will be deployed over the next few months via the Kibo module’s airlock and NanoRack dispenser.

After the spacecraft is finished with its ISS mission, it will continue to perform science; just like Cygnus, scientists have found ways to make use of the spacecraft after its primary mission is complete.  In this case, JAXA will be testing deployment of an electrodynamic tether to see how practical this could be for cheaply altering a spacecraft’s orbit.  If it works, such a system could be placed on future spacecraft to ensure their disposal at the end of their missions.  Right now, most dead spacecraft simply remain in orbit until they fall naturally, and this presents a debris hazard.

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The ISS in Ultra HD

NASA released this amazing fly-through video of the ISS, taken in Ultra HD with a fisheye lens and set to lovely, relaxing, spacey orchestral music.  If you’re stressed out after yesterday’s events and want to pretend you’re up there, turn out all the lights, put on headphones, put this on full screen, and lean back….

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Himawari 9 launched from Japan!

Himawari 9, Japan’s latest weather satellite, has been launched into orbit by the H-2 rocket from scenic Tanegashima:

Himawari 9 will head up to geosynchronous orbit, where it will sit as an on-orbit spare for Himawari 8.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, maker of the H-2 rocket, has announced their intention to offer the H-2 on the commercial launch market.  It’s going to be interesting to see how things heat up over the next few years; it almost starts to seem as if we may have too many commercial providers.  But if nothing else, it will create competition, and that’s usually good for business.  It’s going to be a fun few years for space geeks!

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