Japan’s Hayabusa 2 probe zoomed past Earth on December 5th and dropped off a capsule containing bits of an asteroid, finishing a six-year round trip.
But the mission is far from over: While Hayabusa 2’s parachute-equipped sample capsule descended to the Australian Outback, its mothership set a new course for an encounter with yet another asteroid in 2031.
Imagery captured by tracking cameras — and from the International Space Station — showed the capsule streaking like a fireball across the sky as it decelerated from an initial speed of 43,000 kilometers per hour.
Japan has suspended its funding contribution to the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. An international consortium is behind the TMT, which was proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is one of the most desirable observing locations on Earth. It’s already host to several observatories, including the Subaru Telescope and the Keck Observatory. The $1.4 billion TMT would be the most powerful telescope there.
Japanese astronomers have captured images of an astonishing 1800 supernovae. 58 of these supernovae are the scientifically-important Type 1a supernovae located 8 billion light years away. Type 1a supernovae are known as ‘standard candles’ in astronomy.
Have you heard of Interstellar Technologies? They’re the latest private company to launch their own rocket into space. They’re a Japanese company, and like other private space companies, their stated goal is to lower the cost to access space.
The architectural design behind Japan’s new space research center is mind-boggling. The futuristic building will incorporate elements of spacecraft design, which emphasize light weight and high functionality. The whole thing will be suspended over a man-made, Moon-like crater.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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),
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
“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.
“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.
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.