As NASA continues to struggle with gaining a clear direction for the future of human space exploration, the U.S. space agency’s international counterparts are wasting no time setting exploration goals for themselves. Specifically, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is aiming to capitalize off past success to enable further human and robotic exploration of the solar system in the coming decades.
Determining the scope of the project:
As determined in 2009 and presented at the recent Exploration Gateways Conference, JAXA has created a comprehensive overview of their strategy for developing their space program both in the manned and unmanned arenas.
Capitalizing off their success with the Kibo lab complex (two pressurized, habitable modules and an external experiment pallet), the HTV transfer vehicle, Hayabusa, and three (3) residency stays on the International Space Station – with at least two more upcoming in 2012 and 2013/14, Japan is looking to make their space program more robust – an approach that began in 2009 with the Space Basic Plan.
Under this plan, JAXA aimed to understand and enhance their Land, Sea Observing Satellite system coverage in the Asian region, their Earth Environment, Weather Observing Satellite systems, their Advanced Communication Satellite system, their positioning satellite system, and their National Security Satellite system.
A Program Research and Development group also set out to enhance JAXA’s Space Science, Manned, and Space Solar Power System (SSPS) programs.
To accomplish the task of enhancing their Space Science and Manned programs, JAXA conducted “a one year study of [their] strategy for lunar exploration by robotic and possibly human” activity.
Seeking to capitalize from their recent exploration of the moon – a field of study for Japan which greatly increased from 2007 to 2009 with the SELENE (or Kaguya) lunar orbiter mission, the one year lunar exploration study group – comprised of members from the industry, jurists, academics, astronauts, and sociologists – created three main objectives for the one year study.
These objectives included the clarification of the exploration objectives and roadmap for technological development; the proposal of a “concrete plan for robotic lunar exploration for science and utilization, foreseeing manned lunar exploration afterward;” and the establishment of a strategy for international cooperation.
For this study, the group was organized under the Minister of State for Space Policy. The group worked on the study from August 2009 to July 2010 before issuing their report.
Since the filing of that report in July 2010 until the Exploration Gateways Conference later in the year, budget requests for the implementation of the proposals from the report were not forthcoming.
Nevertheless, the proposal itself recommended a three phased approach to JAXA’s lunar exploration program.
The proposal would begin in 2015 with the launch and initial operations of the SELENE-2 mission – a direct follow-up to the SELENE mission from 2007-2009.
The mission would represent the first lunar landing for Japan and would be classed as a short-term investigations mission. At this time, a 2015 launch date is still possible – but only if funding materializes quickly.
This SELENE-2 mission would, under the recommendations of the study participants, lead to the SELENE-X mission in 2020 – a robotics exploration mission based on the assemblage of a base on the south polar region of the moon for long-term investigation and sample return.
This mission would require a lunar robot capable of collecting samples from the lunar surface and a sample return craft.
Together, these two proposed missions would allow Japan to fulfill the third part of the phased approach for the robotics side of the lunar exploration proposal: demonstrating leadership in the international collaboration arena.
But the lunar robotic exploration missions were not the only recommendations brought forth by the study group. Human space exploration approaches were also highlighted, including the research and development of “basic technologies for human transportation systems by around 2020.”
This basic technology includes safety enhancement of rocket engines, the study and incorporation of emergent escape technologies, the development of a human-rated reentry system, and the development of Environment Control and Life Support System (ELCSS) technologies.
These emergent technologies would enable the leveraging of other JAXA space activities, including robotic lunar exploration, H-IIA/B launch operations, and ISS utilization and operation for technology demonstration – thus fulfilling the usefulness of the International Space Station as a test-bed for future missions beyond Low Earth Orbit.
Importantly, for this phase of the project, the JAXA study team emphasized, as did the presentation panel at the Exploration Gateways Conference, that “International cooperation is mandatory for human space exploration!” – again pointing out the need to come together for the betterment of all (the ISS as the shining example) than to try to attempt things on our own.
Implementing the proposals – Building from past success:
In addition to the proposed/recommended process by the study group, the roadmap for space exploration for JAXA also includes desires for the exploration of what are labeled “primitive bodies.”
Building on the success of Hayabusa at an S-type asteroid, Nozomi at Mars, Ikaros (the solar sail craft), and Planet-C (the in-progress Venus Climate Orbiter mission which will enter orbit of Venus later this decade), JAXA is looking to continue its asteroid sample return success with the Hayabusa-2 and Hayabusa-Mk2 missions – the first of which would be to a C-type asteroid and the second to a D-type asteroid.
Also on the table for consideration is the BepiColombo mission in conjunction with ESA (European Space Agency) for the exploration of Mercury. The MELOS mission, a Martian orbiter, and a currently-unnamed Jupiter and Trojan asteroids exploration mission – classed as a joint international mission – are also under consideration.
Of the five missions outlined as potentialities for JAXA, only Hayabusa-2 has a proposed launch date (July 2014 with a June 2018 arrival at an asteroid and a December 2020 Earth Return date). No launch dates or proposed theoretical mission execution dates for the other four missions are available at this time as funding is not in place.
The Exploration Gateways Conference presentation also revealed that JAXA will – as always expected – continue its fervent commitment to the International Space Station via crewmembers Hoshide in 2012 and Wakata in 2013/2014.
The presentation also showed the rough launch schedule for the remaining five (5) HTVs – with HTVs 3-7 all represented with flights from 2012 through 2015.
After that, JAXA does list the possibility of further HTVs as TBD (To Be Determined) through the end of the Station’s lifetime – something that will be greatly dependent on US and Russian funding commitments past the 2020 life extension already granted by the Congress of the United States.
Technology development drive:
To foster this more robust space program, one that will hopefully include human-flight capabilities, certain and specific technological development scenarios will have to be realized – the first of which would be the development of human reentry and return capabilities.
“Thermal protection and lifting flight control of human vehicle during the atmosphere re-entry,” will need to be developed, notes the Exploration Gateways Conference presentation from JAXA.
“Slow descent, soft and precision land at the predetermined area of the earth,” will also be of high priority in the technological arena.
In fact, JAXA hopes to have an HTV-R (H-IIb Transfer Vehicle with return capability) by the middle of the decade – a vehicle which would demonstrate and prove the new technologies needed for human reentry and return processes.
In the long term, JAXA hopes to develop a true human-rated spaceship sometime in the late 2020s.
For this new spaceship, a new human-rated launcher will need to be developed.
“The human safety technologies are key for human launch vehicle,” notes the JAXA presentation. “Simple, reliable, and low cost cryogenic engine, FDIR (fault detection, isolation & recovery) technologies, Launch abort system for emergency escape,” are all of paramount importance.
Key technological develop is expected to continue through the 2010 decade, leading to a debut of the “next primary launch vehicle” in the early 2020s and full capabilities for human launch by the 2027/28 timeframe.
Likewise, ELCSS development will continue through the mid-2010s on the ground before moving up the ISS for in-space demonstrations of air and water revitalization equipment. CO2 removal, water recovery, and toilet and shower technology development will begin shortly thereafter and continue into 2021 before human spaceship, lander, and pressurized rover development begins.
JAXA is also aiming to develop new human orbital transfer technologies for low boil-off cryogenic propulsion technologies to be used for an orbital transfer vehicle set to debut in the late 2020s.
A pre-breathe-less spacesuit is also under development at this time, as is space medicine technologies to “verify medical safety techniques needed for human presence and establishment of long duration stay on the lunar surface.”
Specifically, a space radiation monitor, regolith and lunar dust control, mental and psychological support, telemedicine care, and space food are being drawn-up/analyzed.
For this space medicine part of JAXA’s development, two tech demos are scheduled on the ISS – one in approximately 2015 and the second in 2021.
(Images via JAXA)