Japan is known for numerous things: sushi, samurai, advanced robotics, manga and a rapidly aging population to name but a few. Maybe not as well known abroad as NASA or ESA, Japan also has its own aerospace agency called JAXA, which in its current form is still very young. Its veteran astronaut – Koichi Wakata – is currently on board the International Space Station (not his first time either) and you can follow what he is up to on his Twitter account @Astro_Wakata.
JAXA, short for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, was born in October 2003, in a merger of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL) and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) to create efficiency in numbers, combining forces on anything from basic research to developement and administration. This year, on its 10th anniversary, the organization’s slogan became “Explore to Realize” aiming at the fact that they want to “build a safe and prosperous society” with their research and achievements. Not in the least, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster which the country is still recovering from and will be for many years to come, one of the agency’s top priorities is to establish a system for natural disaster management.
Another of JAXA’s goals is to revive its aircraft manufacturing industry while promoting the space industry as Japan’s key industry of the future. And as the most easterly country in Asia, JAXA will be thinking about creating hypersonic aircraft which can cross the Pacific Ocean in 2 hours at speeds of Mach 5. But Japan wouldn’t be Japan without some cutting-edge robot thrown into the mix right, whether it’s in anime or space…
Kirobo’s first words were “On August 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all,” and like all good astronauts even Kirobo (the word “kirobo” itself is a portmanteau of “kibō” (希望), which means “hope” in Japanese, and the word “robo” (ロボ), used as a generic short word for any robot) had a backup on Earth in the form of its twin robot Mirata.
Japan’s space program of course goes back a lot further than 2003 (the country’s first satellite – named OHSUMI – was put into orbit in February of 1970) but looking at recent developments, their new Epsilon rocket program seems to herald the dawn of a new era for Japan’s space industry. In a country which has had its fair share of bad luck in recent years, a new type of rocket that would only need 8 people at the launch site opposed to the 150 people from earlier launches, saving millions on every launch can only be a good thing, but more on that another time. Sayonara!