Monday, 28 February 2005

Japan's Lunar Ambitions ?

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has just launched its first booster in 15 months.
H2A Night LaunchAt one stage, the Japanese Space Program looked like it was in deep trouble. There was talk in the Diet of abandoning the booster program altogether, after the first failure of an H2A (mentioned on this blog).

The thing is, the H2A is quite an advanced booster. It uses a cryogenic Liquid Hydrogen/Liquid Oxygen fuel, with solid-fuel strap-on boosters, much as the Space Shuttle. But disposable, rather than re-usable.

I have a soft spot for the H2A - it was the booster that carried FedSat up into Low Earth Orbit, and did so absolutely flawlessly. It also carried a bus-sized multi-ton Earth Resources Technology satellite, and 2 other microsatellites - it has a respectable payload, though not in the Ariane-V or Energia class.

Now from the AFP via The Australian :
Japan's space agency, fresh from its first satellite launch since a 2003 failure, wants to put a manned station on the moon in 2025 and to set up a satellite disaster alert system.

"We will include it as one of the future goals in our new long-term vision, which we are going to submit with the government's Space Activity Commission by the end of March," said an official with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

By 2015, the space agency also wants to establish a system that would transmit disaster information via satellites to mobile telephones on Earth, he said.

"We are still compiling our long-term vision. There are many things we want to include," said the official.

He was responding to a report by the Mainichi Shimbun, which said Japan planned to develop a robot to explore the moon in five years and within 10 years the technology to let humans stay on the moon for extended periods.

In 20 years, it will start development of the space station to be built on the moon to conduct scientific research, the Mainichi said.

To realise the goal, the agency aims to develop Japan's own manned space craft, similar to the US Space Shuttle, the Mainichi said.

The official of the space agency declined to discuss details of the agency's plan, but said the Mainichi report "was not necessarily all wrong".
You must remember that Emperor Hirohito's speech announcing that Japan had surrendered used a similar phrase :
...the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage...
Which hints that it may be exactly on target in every respect. Of course, they'll be facing some competition. The AFP report continues:
The United States is planning a lunar orbiter by 2008 to be followed the next year by a landing mission. By 2015 it plans to put a person on the moon, the first since another American, Eugene Cernan, on December 11, 1972.

US President George W Bush has set the goal of a manned mission to Mars by 2020.

The European Space Agency also plans to launch an orbiter to the moon by 2008 and a second mission, a lander, in 2009 or 2010 to be followed by a human flight in 2020.

China, a longtime recipient of Japan's aid but now its growing rival, has vowed to launch an unmanned lunar exploration craft before 2007, with a goal of landing a spacecraft on the moon in 2010.

India, which often compares and contrasts its progress to that of China, has scheduled its own lunar mission for 2007 and, if successful, wants another one by 2015.

The Soviet Union in 1959 was the first country to complete a moon orbit. But cash-strapped Russia has not launched a planetary mission since 1996.

The Russians hope to launch their next unmanned mission in 2009 to land on Phobos, a moon orbiting Mars.
The dates for the US do not appear to be consistent with a realistic timeframe for the CEV (as mentioned in a previous article).

The recent launch of the Ariane-5 ECA from the European Space Agency caused me to have another look at its performance. It compares very favourably to a Saturn 1B, (though not to a Saturn V Apollo Moon Rocket). ESA thus has the lifting capability, using 3 Ariane-5 ECA's, to send up the components for a crewed lunar mission. One to carry the lander, one to carry a "kicker" booster to take the mission to the moon and back, and a command/re-entry module for the crew.

But none of the ESA gear is man-rated, and from personal experience, I can state that the ESA standards documentation (which we used for FedSat) treats man-rated gear quite differently: the additional tests and reliability requirements are immense.

So don't expect another set of footprints on the Moon this decade, and probably not the next either. After that though, there could be quite a few projects coming to fruition. Interesting times. Perhaps there will even be some co-operation, formal or informal. What do I mean by informal? Well, on FedSat, we used ESA documentation, development and telemetry standards, a NASA-supplied GPS system, and a Japanese Booster to launch a UK-designed Australian-constructed satellite (with a South-African Boom and a Canadian attitude control system). And despite this, it all worked, and continues to work today.

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