Japan Becomes A Military Space Player With Latest Launch

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has accomplished some impressive things over the years. Between 2003 (when it was formed) and 2016, the agency has launched multiple satellites – ranging from x-ray and infrared astronomy to lunar and Venus atmosphere exploration probes – and overseen Japan’s participation in the International Space Station.

But in what is an historic mission – and a potentially controversial one – JAXA recently launched the first of three X-band defense communication satellites into orbit. By giving the Japanese Self-Defense Forces the ability to relay communications and commands to its armed forces, this satellite (known as DSN 2) represents an expansion of Japan’s military capability.

The launch took place on January 24th at 4:44 pm Japan Standard Time (JST) – or 0744 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – with the launch of a H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center. This was the thirty-second successful flight of the launch vehicle, and the mission was completed with the deployment of the satellite in Low-Earth Orbit – 35,000 km; 22,000 mi above the surface of the Earth.

Artist’s concept of a Japanese X-band military communications satellite. Credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense

Shortly after the completion of the mission, JAXA issued a press release stating the following:

“At 4:44 p.m., (Japan Standard Time, JST) January 24, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and JAXA launched the H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 32 with X-band defense communication satellite-2* on board. The launch and the separation of the satellite proceeded according to schedule. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and JAXA express appreciation for the support in behalf of the successful launch. At the time of the launch the weather was fine, at 9 degrees Celsius, and the wind speed was 7.1 meters/second from the NW.”

This launch is part of a $1.1 billion program by the Japanese Defense Ministry to develop X-band satellite communications for the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). With the overall goal of deploying three x-band relay satellites into geostationary orbit, its intended purpose is to reduce the reliance of Japan’s military (and those of its allies) on commercial and international communications providers.

While this may seem like a sound strategy, it is a potential source of controversy in that it may skirt the edge of what is constitutionally permitted in Japan. In short, deploying military satellites is something that may be in violation of Japan’s post-war agreements, which the nation committed to as part of its surrender to the Allies. This includes forbidding the use of military force as a means of solving international disputes.

An H-2A rocket, Japan’s primary large-scale launch vehicle. Credit: JAXA

It also included placing limitations on its Self-Defense Forces so they would not be capable of independent military action. As is stated in Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan (passed in 1947):

“(1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
(2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

However, since 2014, the Japanese government has sought to reinterpret Article 9 of the constitution, claiming that it allows the JSDF the freedom to defend other allies in case of war. This move has largely been in response to mounting tensions with North Korea over its development of nuclear weapons, as well as disputes with China over issues of sovereignty in the South China Sea.

This interpretation has been the official line of the Japanese Diet since 2015, as part of a series of measures that would allow the JSDF to provide material support to allies engaged in combat internationally. This justification, which claims that Japan and its allies would be endangered otherwise, has been endorsed by the United States. However, to some observers, it may very well be interpreted as an attempt by Japan to re-militarize.

In the coming weeks, the DSN 2 spacecraft will use its on-board engine to position itself in geostationary orbit, roughly 35,800 km (22,300 mi) above the equator. Once there, it will commence a final round of in-orbit testing before commencing its 15-year term of service.

Further Reading: Spaceflight Now

Japan’s Black Hole Telescope Is In Trouble

An artist's drawing of Japan's Hitomi observatory. Image Credit: JAXA/Akihiro Ikeshita

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has lost contact with its X-ray Astronomy Satellite Hitomi (ASTRO-H.) Hitomi was launched on February 17th, for a 3-year mission to study black holes. But now that mission appears to be in jeopardy.

Hitomi is a collaboration between JAXA and NASA. Its mission was to investigate how galaxy clusters were formed and influenced by dark matter and dark energy, and to understand how super-massive black holes form and evolve at the center of galaxies. Hitomi was also to “unearth the physical laws governing extreme conditions in neutron stars and black holes,” according to JAXA.

Japan has managed two very short communications with Hitomi, but they were very brief, and JAXA has not been able to determine the nature of the problem. Now, JSpOC, the US Joint Space Operations Center, say they have detected debris in the vicinity of Hitomi, and in a press release this morning (March 29th), JAXA says “it is estimated that Hitomi separated to five pieces at about 10:42 a.m.”

Hitomi was going to be an important contribution to the fleet of space telescopes used by astrophysicists and cosmologists. It has a cutting edge instrument called the X-ray micro-calorimeter, which would have observed X-rays from space with the greatest sensitivity of any instrument so far. If all that is lost, it will be quite a blow.

There’s no definitive word yet on what exactly has happened to Hitomi. Japan is using ground stations in different parts of the world to try to communicate with their observatory. It’s important to note that there is no agreement that the craft has broken apart. The press releases are translations from Japanese to English, so the exact meaning of “separated to five pieces” is unclear.

It’s possible that there was a small explosion of some sort, and that some debris from that explosion is in the vicinity of Hitomi. It’s also possible that JAXA will re-establish communications with the craft as time goes on.

Other observatories have suffered serious problems, and have eventually been brought back under control and completed their missions. The ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) suffered serious problems at the beginning of its mission in 1995, entering emergency mode 3 times before all contact was lost. Eventually, SOHO was brought under control, and what was supposed to be a 2-year mission has lasted 20.

Universe Today will be following this story to see if Hitomi can be made operational. For readers wanting to know more about Hitomi’s mission, read JAXA’s excellent Hitomi press kit.

Weekly Space Hangout – March 20, 2015: Lee Billings’ Five Billion Years of Solitude

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Special Guest: Author Lee Billings, discussing his book “Five Billion Years of Solitude”(@LeeBillings / leebillings.com/)
Guests:
Dr. Pamela Gay (cosmoquest.org / @starstryder)
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg )
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – March 20, 2015: Lee Billings’ Five Billion Years of Solitude”

Watch Out Japan! Super Typhoon Neoguri is ENORMOUS – As Seen from ISS

“Supertyphoon Neoguri is ENORMOUS” says Alexander Gerst, ESA’s German astronaut currently serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS) as he observes the monster storm swirling below on our Home Planet.

“Watch Out Japan!” added Gerst while he and his crewmates working aboard the ISS send back breathtaking imagery of the gigantic super typhoon heading towards Japan.

Neoguri is currently lashing the Japanese island of Okinawa with powerful damaging winds of over 125 mph and heavy downpours of flooding rain.

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center or JTWC reports that Neoguri is creating large and dangerous swells with wave heights to 37 feet (11.2 meters).

CNN reports today, July 8, that over 600,000 people have been told to evacuate and over 100,000 already have no power. Gusts have reached 212 kph (132 mph),

“Supertyphoon Neoguri did not even fit into our fisheye lens view. I have never seen anything like this.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst
“Supertyphoon Neoguri did not even fit into our fisheye lens view. I have never seen anything like this.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst

The storm is so big it could not even be captured in a single image taken today using the astronauts fisheye lens on the ISS.

“Supertyphoon Neoguri did not even fit into our fisheye lens view. I have never seen anything like this,” reports Gerst today, July 8.

And the worst may be yet to come as Neoguri is forecast to make landfall on Kyushu, the southernmost island of the Japanese mainland and home to more than 13 million people after 0000 UTC on July 10 (8 p.m. EDT on July 9).

Super Typhoon Neoguri formed in the western Pacific Ocean south-southeast of Guam on July 3, 2014, according to NASA.

ISS above Supertyphoon Neoguri. Taken from the ISS on 7 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst
ISS above Supertyphoon Neoguri. Taken from the ISS on 7 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst

By July 5 it had maximum sustained winds near 110 knots (127 mph).

The NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission or TRMM satellite passed over the typhoon on Monday, July 7. It was classified as a category four typhoon on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale with sustained winds estimates at 135 knots (155 mph), says NASA.

The eerie looking eye is 65 kilometers (40 miles) in diameter. See photo.

“Scary. The sunlight is far from reaching down the abyss of Neoguri's 65 km-wide eye.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst
“Scary. The sunlight is far from reaching down the abyss of Neoguri’s 65 km-wide eye.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: ESA/NASA/Alexander Gerst

It has since decreased slightly in intensity to a category three typhoon.

According to the Japanese Meteorological Agency Neoguri is currently located at 28°55′ (N) and E125°50′ (E).

At 5:02 PM EDT today, July 8, NASA just reported that the ISS flew directly over Neoguri and may have been visible in the new live HDEV cameras residing on the stations truss.

“Neoguri has been literally cut in half. Unreal.”  Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: NASA/Reid Wiseman
“Neoguri has been literally cut in half. Unreal.” Taken from the ISS on 8 July 2014. Credit: NASA/Reid Wiseman

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing ISS, OCO-2, GPM, Curiosity, Opportunity, Orion, SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth & Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Path of Supertyphoon Neoguri. Credit: Japanese Meteorological Agency
Path of Supertyphoon Neoguri. Credit: Japanese Meteorological Agency

Next Generation NASA/JAXA Global Weather Research Satellite thunders aloft from Japanese Spaceport

GPM Launch Seen From the Tanegashima Space Center
A Japanese H-IIA rocket with the NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory onboard, is seen launching from the Tanegashima Space Center on Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 (Japan Time), in Tanegashima, Japan; Thursday, Feb. 27, EST. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls[/caption]

NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MARYLAND – A powerful, next generation weather observatory aimed at gathering unprecedented 3-D measurements of global rain and snowfall rates – and jointly developed by the US and Japan – thundered to orbit today (Feb. 27 EST, Feb. 28 JST) ) during a spectacular night time blastoff from a Japanese space port.

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory was launched precisely on time at 1:37 p.m. EST, 1837 GMT, Thursday, Feb. 27 (3:37 a.m. JST Friday, Feb. 28) atop a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island off southern Japan.

Viewers could watch the spectacular liftoff live on NASA TV – which was streamed here at Universe Today.

“GPM’s precipitation measurements will look like a CAT scan,” Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum, GPM research scientist, told me during a prelaunch interview with the GPM satellite in the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“The radar can scan through clouds to create a three dimensional view of a clouds structure and evolution.”

GPM lifts off on Feb. 27, EST (Feb. 28 JST) to begin its Earth-observing mission.  Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
GPM lifts off on Feb. 27, EST (Feb. 28, JST) to begin its Earth-observing mission. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

GPM is the lead observatory of a constellation of nine highly advanced Earth orbiting weather research satellites contributed by the US, Japan, Europe and India.

Indeed GPM will be the first satellite to measure light rainfall and snow, in addition to heavy tropical rainfall.

It will collect a treasure trove of data enabling the most comprehensive measurements ever of global precipitation every three hours – and across a wide swath of the planet where virtually all of humanity lives from 65 N to 65 S latitudes.

GPM orbits at an altitude of 253 miles (407 kilometers) above Earth – quite similar to the International Space Station (ISS).

The global precipitation data will be made freely available to climate researchers and weather forecasters worldwide in near real time – something long awaited and not possible until now.

Water and the associated water and energy cycles are the basis of all life on Earth.

Yet scientists lack a clear and comprehensive understanding of key rain and snow fall amounts on most of the globe – which is at the heart of humanity’s existence and future well being on the home planet.

Having an accurate catalog of the water and energy cycles will direct benefit society and impact people’s lives on a daily basis with improved weather forecasts, more advanced warnings of extreme weather conditions, aid farmers, help identify and determine the effects of global climate change.

Researchers will use the GPM measurements to study climate change, freshwater resources, floods and droughts, and hurricane formation and tracking.

“With this launch, we have taken another giant leap in providing the world with an unprecedented picture of our planet’s rain and snow,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a NASA statement.

gpm-decal-smallGPM will help us better understand our ever-changing climate, improve forecasts of extreme weather events like floods, and assist decision makers around the world to better manage water resources.”

“The GPM spacecraft has been under development for a dozen years,” said GPM Project Manager Art Azarbarzin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in a prelaunch interview with Universe Today conducted inside the clean room with GPM before it’s shipment to Japan.

NASA’s next generation Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD. Technicians at work on final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today.  GPM is slated to launch on February 27, 2014 and will provide global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s next generation Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD. Technicians at work on final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today. GPM is slated to launch on February 27, 2014 and will provide global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“The GPM satellite was built in house by the dedicated team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland,” Azarbarzin told me.

“It’s the largest satellite ever built at Goddard.”

Following the flawless blastoff, the nearly four ton GPM spacecraft separated from the Japanese rocket some 16 minutes later at an altitude of 247 miles (398 kilometers).

10 minutes later both of the spacecrafts life giving solar arrays deployed as planned.

Major components of the GPM Core Observatory labeled, including the GMI, DPR, HGAS, solar panels, and more. Credit: NASA Goddard
Major components of the GPM Core Observatory labeled, including the GMI, DPR, HGAS, solar panels, and more. Credit: NASA Goddard

“It is incredibly exciting to see this spacecraft launch,” said Azarbarzin, in a NASA statement. He witnessed the launch in Japan.

“This is the moment that the GPM Team has been working toward since 2006.”

“The GPM Core Observatory is the product of a dedicated team at Goddard, JAXA and others worldwide.”

“Soon, as GPM begins to collect precipitation observations, we’ll see these instruments at work providing real-time information for the scientists about the intensification of storms, rainfall in remote areas and so much more.”

The $933 Million observatory is a joint venture between the US and Japanese space agencies, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The 3850 kilogram GPM satellite is equipped with two instruments – an advanced, higher resolution dual -frequency precipitation (DPR) radar instrument (Ku and Ka band) built by JAXA in Japan and the GPM microwave imager (GMI) built by Ball Aerospace in the US.

The GPM observatory will replace the aging NASA/JAXA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite launched back in 1997 and also jointly developed by NASA and JAXA.

“GPM is the direct follow-up to the currently orbiting TRMM satellite,” Azarbarzin explained to me.

“TRMM is reaching the end of its usable lifetime. After GPM launches we hope it has some overlap with observations from TRMM.”

GPM is vital to continuing the TRMM measurements. It will help provide improved forecasts and advance warning of extreme super storms like Hurricane Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan.

“TRMM was only designed to last three years but is still operating today. We hope GPM has a similar long life,” said Azarbarzin.

NASA astronaut Paul Richards discusses GPM at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Fe. 27, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA astronaut Paul Richards (STS-102) discusses GPM at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Feb. 27, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing GPM reports and on-site coverage at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

And watch for Ken’s continuing planetary and human spaceflight news about Curiosity, Opportunity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars, Orion and more.

Ken Kremer

Visualization of the GPM Core Observatory and Partner Satellites. Credit: NASA
Visualization of the GPM Core Observatory and Partner Satellites. GPM launched on Feb. 27 from Japan. Credit: NASA
NASA/JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD, undergoes final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today:   Dr. Art Azarbarzin/NASA GPM project manager, Dr. Ken Kremer/Universe Today and Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum/NASA GPM research scientist.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA/JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD, undergoes final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today: Dr. Art Azarbarzin/NASA GPM project manager, Dr. Ken Kremer/Universe Today and Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum/NASA GPM research scientist. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA/JAXA Precipitation Measurement Satellite ‘GO’ for Feb. 27 Launch – Watch Live Here on NASA TV

Visualization of the GPM Core Observatory and Partner Satellites. GPM is slated to launch on Feb. 27 from Japan. Credit: NASA
See launch animation, Shinto ceremony, Rocket roll out and more below[/caption]

NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MARYLAND – Blastoff of the powerful and revolutionary new NASA/JAXA rain and snow precipitation measurement satellite atop a Japanese rocket from a tiny offshore island launch pad is now less than 24 hours away on Thursday, Feb. 27, EST (Feb. 28 JST).

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory aimed at improving forecasts of extreme weather and climate change research has been given a green light for launch atop a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island off southern Japan.

Roll out of the H-IIA launch vehicle from the Vehicle Assembly Building is scheduled for this evening, Feb. 26 at 11 p.m. EST.

Update: rocket rolled out. Photo below, plus watch streaming NASA TV below.

Following the Launch Readiness Review, mission managers approved the GO for liftoff.

The H-IIA rocket with GPM rolls to its launch pad in Japan! Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The H-IIA rocket with GPM rolls to its launch pad in Japan! Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Japanese team members also prayed at a Shinto ceremony for blessings for a successful launch at the Ebisu Shrine, the first shrine in a traditional San-ja Mairi, or Three Shrine Pilgrimage on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 – see photo below.

However, the team also set a newly revised launch time of 1:37 p.m. EST (18:37 UTC, and Feb. 28 at 3:37 a.m. JST).



Live streaming video by Ustream

Mission managers adjusted the H-IIA launch time after concerns raised by a collision avoidance analysis between the GPM spacecraft and the International Space Station (ISS).

gpm launch

GPM will fly at an altitude of 253 miles (407 kilometers) above Earth – quite similar to the ISS.

It’s coverage runs over virtually the entire populated globe from 65 N to 65 S latitudes.

NASA plans live coverage of the launch on Feb. 27 beginning at 12 noon EST on NASA Television.

It will be streamed live at: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

The $933 Million observatory is a joint venture between the US and Japanese space agencies, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

NASA’s next generation Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD. Technicians at work on final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today.  GPM is slated to launch on February 27, 2014 and will provide global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s next generation Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD. Technicians at work on final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today. GPM is slated to launch on February 27, 2014 and will provide global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

GPM has a one-hour launch window. In case of any delays, the team will be required to conduct a thorough new collision avoidance analysis to ensure safety.

Weather forecast is excellent at this time.

Watch this GPM Launch animation:

Video caption: NASA/JAXA GPM Core Observatory Launch Animation

GPM is a next-generation satellite that will provide global, near real time observations of rain and snow from space. Such data is long awaited by climate scientists and weather forecasters.

It will open a new revolutionary era in global weather observing and climate science. Therefore it will have a direct impact on society and people’s daily lives worldwide.

The mission will significantly advance our understanding of Earth’s water and energy cycles and improve forecasting of extreme weather events.

The 3850 kilogram GPM satellite is equipped with two instruments – an advanced, higher resolution dual -frequency precipitation (DPR) radar instrument (Ku and Ka band) built by JAXA in Japan and the GPM microwave imager (GMI) built by Ball Aerospace in the US.

Major components of the GPM Core Observatory labeled, including the GMI, DPR, HGAS, solar panels, and more. Credit: NASA Goddard
Major components of the GPM Core Observatory labeled, including the GMI, DPR, HGAS, solar panels, and more. Credit: NASA Goddard

“The GPM satellite was built in house at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland,” Art Azarbarzin, GPM project manager, told Universe Today during my exclusive up-close clean room inspection tour of the huge satellite as final processing was underway.

Researchers will use the GPM measurements to study climate change, freshwater resources, floods and droughts, and hurricane formation and tracking.

“GPM will join a worldwide constellation of current and planned satellites,” Azarbarzin told me during an interview in the Goddard cleanroom beside GPM.

“GPM is the direct follow-up to the currently orbiting TRMM satellite,” Azarbarzin explained.

“TRMM is reaching the end of its usable lifetime. After GPM launches we hope it has some overlap with observations from TRMM.”

“The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory will provide high resolution global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours,” Dalia Kirschbaum, GPM research scientist, told me during an interview at Goddard.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing GPM reports and on-site coverage at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

And watch for Ken’s continuing planetary and human spaceflight news about Curiosity, Opportunity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars, Orion and more.

Ken Kremer

GPM: Three Shrine Pilgrimage  Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) team members bow at the Ebisu Shrine, the first shrine in a traditional San-ja Mairi, or Three Shrine Pilgrimage, where the team prays on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 for a successful launch, Tanegashima Island, Japan.    Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
GPM: Three Shrine Pilgrimage Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) team members bow at the Ebisu Shrine, the first shrine in a traditional San-ja Mairi, or Three Shrine Pilgrimage, where the team prays on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 for a successful launch, Tanegashima Island, Japan. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA/JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD, undergoes final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today:   Dr. Art Azarbarzin/NASA GPM project manager, Dr. Ken Kremer/Universe Today and Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum/NASA GPM research scientist.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA/JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite inside the clean room at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, MD, undergoes final processing during exclusive up-close inspection tour by Universe Today: Dr. Art Azarbarzin/NASA GPM project manager, Dr. Ken Kremer/Universe Today and Dr. Dalia Kirschbaum/NASA GPM research scientist. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Volcanic Blast Forms New Island Near Japan

A volcanic eruption is creating a tiny new island off the coast of Japan. The Japanese Coast Guard snapped images and video of the eruption taking place, showing the new island being formed. Footage showed heavy smoke, ash and rocks spewing from the volcanic crater. As of this writing, experts say the small island is about 200 meters (660 feet) in diameter. It is located just off the coast of Nishinoshima, a small, uninhabited island in the Ogasawara chain, also known as the Bonin Islands, about about 620 miles (1,000 km) south of Tokyo.

See a video and additional images below.

Only time will tell if the island will remain or if the ocean waters will reclaim it. According to Yahoo News, Japan’s chief government spokesman said they would welcome any new territory.

“This has happened before and in some cases the islands disappeared,” Yoshihide Suga said when asked if the government was planning on naming the new island. “If it becomes a full-fledged island, we would be happy to have more territory.”

An erupting undersea volcano forms a new island, shown by its nearest neighbor, Nishinoshima, a small unihabited island in the southern Ogasawara chain of islands. The image was taken on November 21, 2013 by the Japanese Coast Guard.
An erupting undersea volcano forms a new island, shown by its nearest neighbor, Nishinoshima, a small unihabited island in the southern Ogasawara chain of islands. The image was taken on November 21, 2013 by the Japanese Coast Guard.
This screenshot of Google Maps shows all the volcanoes in the The Japan, Taiwan, Marianas Region. Via Google Maps and the Smithsonian volcano website.
This screenshot of Google Maps shows all the volcanoes in the The Japan, Taiwan, Marianas Region. Via Google Maps and the Smithsonian volcano website.

According to the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program website, the Japan, Taiwan, Marianas Region is a very active region in the Pacific Ring of Fire and most volcanoes in this region “result from subduction of westward-moving oceanic crust under the Asian Plate. In the Izu-Mariana chain, however, the crust to the west is also oceanic, forming more basaltic island arcs (but with volcanoes that are far more explosive than oceanic hotspot volcanoes).”

You can read more about this volcanic region here.

See an extensive gallery of images at Yahoo News.

Japanese ‘Space Cannon’ On Track For Aiming At An Asteroid: Reports

Watch out, asteroid 1999 JU3: you’re being targeted. As several media reports reminded us, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s Hayabusa-2 asteroid exploration mission will carry a ‘space cannon’ on board — media-speak for the “collision device” that will create an artificial crater on the asteroid’s surface.

“An artificial crater that can be created by the device is expected to be a small one with a few meters in diameter, but still, by acquiring samples from the surface that is exposed by a collision, we can get fresh samples that are less weathered by the space environment or heat,” JAXA states on its website.

Reports indicate JAXA is on schedule to, er, shoot this thing into space for a 2018 rendezvous with an asteroid. The spacecraft will stick around the asteroid for about a year before heading back to Earth in 2020. The overall aim is to learn more about the origin of the solar system by looking at a C-type asteroid, considered to be a “primordial body” that gives us clues as to the early solar system’s makeup.

Check out more on Hayabusa-2 on JAXA’s website.

Best-Ever Topographic Map of Earth from NASA and Japan

[/caption]NASA and Japan recently announced a new and improved digital topographic map of Earth, which was produced with detailed measurements from NASA’s Terra spacecraft.

The new data covers over 99 percent of Earth’s landmass and spans from 83 degrees north latitude to 83 degrees south. Each elevation measurement point in the data is only 30 meters apart.

How were scientists able to improve on previous generations of detailed topographic maps?


The new model, known as a global digital elevation model, was created from images collected by the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or ASTER, instrument aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft. To create a “stereo pair” image,scientists can take two slightly offset images and combine them to create a three-dimensional effect of depth.

The previous version of the global digital elevation model was released in June of 2009 by NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

“The ASTER global digital elevation model was already the most complete, consistent global topographic map in the world,” said ASTER program scientist Woody Turner, “With these enhancements, its resolution is in many respects comparable to the U.S. data from NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, while covering more of the globe.”

The ASTER team added 260,000 stereo-pair images to improve the previous model, which improved spatial resolution, increased horizontal and vertical accuracy, and provided the ability to identify lakes as small as 1 kilometer in diameter.

“This updated version of the ASTER global digital elevation model provides civilian users with the highest-resolution global topography data available,” said ASTER science team lead Mike Abrams. “These data can be used for a broad range of applications, from planning highways and protecting lands with cultural or environmental significance, to searching for natural resources.”

Arguably one of America's most magnificent national parks is the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Joining together in a collaborative effort, NASA and METI are contributing data for the ASTER topographic map to the Group on Earth Observations, for use in the group’s Global Earth Observation System of Systems. No, the previous statement wasn’t a typo – the “system of systems” is an international effort, which uses shared Earth observation data to help monitor and forecast global environmental changes.

One of five instruments launched on Terra in 1999, ASTER acquires images from visible to thermal infrared wavelengths, with spatial resolutions ranging from about 15 to 90 meters. ASTER’s science team is a joint effort between the United States and Japan.

The ASTER data was validated by NASA, METI, Japan’s Earth Remote Sensing Data Analysis Center (ERSDAC), and the U.S. Geological Survey, with additional support from the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and other collaborators. NASA’s Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center is handling the distribution of the new ASTER global digital elevation model.

If you’d like to download the ASTER global digital elevation model to study at no cost, you can do so at: https://lpdaac.usgs.gov/ or http://www.ersdac.or.jp/GDEM/E/4.html

To learn more about ASTER, or NASA’s Terra mission, visit: http://asterweb.jpl.nasa.gov/ and http://www.nasa.gov/terra

Source: NASA/JPL Press Release

Equipment to Study Hayabusa’s Asteroid Samples Damaged in Japan Earthquake

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The large particle accelerator being used in to analyze the asteroid samples returned by the Hayabusa spacecraft was damaged by the March 11 earthquake in Japan, but the high energy accelerator at the KEK particle-physics laboratory will be repaired, according to this report on a Japanese website. An announcement on the KEK website said that all accelerators and experimental devices were stopped immediately “after the first shake” of the historic earthquake. “We have confirmed the radiation safety, and no hazard to the environment has been reported,” the announcement said. “Also there are no reports of casualties on both Tsukuba and Tokai campuses.” Tsukuba is in the mid-latitudes of Japan, about 50 km from Tokyo.

Apparently, the tiny asteroid particles are safe, but an official at KEK was quoted as saying (via Google Translate) “The accelerator needs to be adjusted very precisely. To suffer this much, but it takes time to recover, want to lose to the earthquake recovery.”

But the repairs to the accelerator may take a back seat to the current situation in Japan. The city of Tsukuba is going to take in refugees from Fukushima prefecture, where the heavily damaged nuclear reactor is located and the KEK facilities will provide support for radiation screening for the refugees upon their arrival.

This photo shows some of the damage to the Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba, Japan, the main space center for the country's JAXA agency, from the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck on March 11, 2011. Credit: collectSPACE.com

Tsukuba is also home to the space center that oversees Japan’s Kibo laboratory on the International Space Station, as well the JAXA’s unmanned cargo ships that deliver supplies on orbit. The space center was slightly damaged, and for awhile NASA’s Mission Control in Houston took over operations remotely. According to Robert Pearlman on collectSPACE, several of the Japanese flight control team members and flight directors from the Tsukuba Space Center happened to be in Houston when the quake struck, preparing for the Expedition 27 crew rotation, as astronaut Satoshi Furukawa will be heading the ISS in May. However, operations from the mission control rooms were resumed at 4:00 p.m. on March 22, 2011.

JAXA Flight Control Team (JFCT) resuming the Kibo operations at the Mission Control Room (MCR). Credit: JAXA

Another center, the Kakuda Space Center, located in the Miyagi region close to the most serious effects of the earthquake and tsunami, was heavily damaged, and is closed with no timetable for reopening. The Kakuda center is JAXA’s rocket development and testing center and is Japan’s equivalent of the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Center located in Tsukuba Science City,

Additionally, the ground-breaking ceremony for a new type of particle smasher known as a “super B factory” in Tsukuba has been postponed. Japan had invested $100 million to transform the KEKB collider in Tsukuba, into a Super KEKB, which will smash electrons into positrons at 40 times the rate of the current accelerator.
Just before the quake, the Japanese Space Agency JAXA had announced they are planning a second Hayabusa mission with an explosive twist. The second mission to an asteroid probe will include an impactor that detonates an explosive on the asteroid’s surface, similar to the Deep Impact mission.

The launch was tentatively planned for launch in 2014, heading to a space rock catalogued as 162173 1999 JU3. The probe would land on the surface and, collect samples before and after the impactor blasts its way to the asteroid’s interior.

Despite the problems Hayabusa encountered along its arduous journey to and from asteroid Itokawa –including thruster, communications, gyro and fuel-leak problems, as well as uncertainty whether the probe landed on the asteroid – JAXA and the Japanese people were buoyed by the success of Hayabusa.

It is not clear how the tragic earthquake and tsunami will affect future space missions for Japan, but obviously the country has more important issues ahead of them. May the spirit of the Japanese people be lifted again.

Sources: NHK,, KEK , collectSPACE, Moon and Back, JAXA

Hat tip to Emily Lakdawalla via Twitter.