Monday, July 6, 2015

Japan Shows Off Its Space Ambitions

A crowd of media reporters photograph the fully integrated HTV-5 spacecraft at the Tanegashima Space Center. Photo Credit: JAXA

It was a busy week for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as the country once again demonstrated its growing space ambitions. The agency presented its core advancements in fields of cargo transportation, rocketry and showed off its persisting lunar aspirations. On July 1, JAXA unveiled its next unmanned cargo spacecraft, designed to deliver payload to the International Space Station (ISS). Named Kounotori-5 (HTV-5), which means "white stork" in Japanese, the freighter is being readied for its upcoming launch on Aug. 16 to resupply the ISS. HTV-5 will lift off from Tanegashima Space Center atop an H-2B rocket and is expected to dock with the Space Station on Aug. 22.

HTV-5 is 33 ft. (10 m) long, 14.4 ft. (4.4 m) in diameter and is capable of delivering up to 6 tons of cargo. It will transport supplies, such as food and water, as well as the equipment and materials for experiments.

The spacecraft follows a successful series of four previous missions. The first Kounotori craft was lifted off on Sept. 10, 2009 with 4.5 tons of supplies for the ISS. The last mission was successfully launched on Aug. 3, 2013, delivering 5.4 tons of cargo to the Station, and was deorbited on Sept. 7, 2013.

“We have successfully launched four previous Kounotori transport vehicles," said Kaneaki Narita, head of the HTV Technology Center. “We hope to steadily carry out our mission, relentlessly tackling each task.”

The HTV-5’s upgrades include improved cargo capacity and modification of the solar panels.

Japan wants to continue the successful streak with at least four more HTVs on schedule. The next Kounotori spacecraft, HTV-6 is planned to be launched in 2016.

JAXA also revealed last week its next generation launch vehicle. It was designated H3, as a successor of H-IIA and H-IIB launchers. The agency announced the name in coordination with the rocket’s prime contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.

An infographic presenting the H3 Launch Vehicle. Image Credit: JAXA
An infographic presenting the H3 Launch Vehicle. Image Credit: JAXA

H3 is 207 ft. tall (63 m) and has a core rocket diameter of 17 ft. (5.2 m). It differs from previous versions by using a new first stage engine LE-9, having an improved solid rocket booster and improved second stage engine. It will be capable of launching more than 6.5 tons into the Geostationary Transfer Orbit.

But that’s not all of Japan’s plans to strengthen its position in the global space industry. A Japanese expert panel on space development at the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry released a report that includes sending an unmanned probe known as the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), putting it into lunar orbit.

The next step will be the landing of a spacecraft at the south pole of the moon in cooperation with the United States.

The panel of experts justified the decision mentioning a possibility that frozen water could exist at the south pole of the moon.

JAXA also considers sending a probe to the moons of Mars, if the lunar mission would be successful.

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