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Showing posts with label Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Show all posts

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Learn about Japan's Hayabusa 2 Asteroid Chaser

Wanna see something cool? How about a look at the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Hayabusa 2 asteroid chaser  - its story, as told by a guy with an English accent? Classy.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, October 1, 2018

Japan Lands Two Robots On Asteroid

Call it what you will, but Japan is the first nation to have landed not just one, but two rovers on an asteroid.

The images above show the asteroid Ryugu, with JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) notations showing where the rovers landed.

It hardly seems fair, considering Japan is the only country to have actually done any asteroid chasing... but who cares? The feat by JAXA IS impressive.

Consider, if you will, that within the past month, the U.S. has announced that via NASA, it will once again journey to the Moon with manned missions... and note that no nation other than the U.S. has landed human beings on the Moon... and even then, none since 1972 and Apollo 17.

Of course, to this day, some people believe the moon landings to be a staged landing that actually took place in a lot somewhere in the U.S.

JAXA had launched its unmanned Hayabasa2 asteroid explorer to fly to the Ryugu asteroid, a one kilometer-wide chunk of rock.

On September 21, 2018 at 4:06PM GMT., it deployed two robotic probes--Rover 1A and 1B, and both landed successfully on Ryugu and began to transmit back images of the asteroid surface.

These probes are actually part of the MINERVA-II1 (MIcro Nano Experimental Robot Vehicle for Asteroid). The MINERVA-II1 is the world’s first rover (mobile exploration robot) to land on the surface of an asteroid.

It is also the first time for autonomous movement and picture capture to occur on an asteroid surface.

The MINERVA-II1 is, according to JAXA, "the world’s first man-made object to explore movement on an asteroid surface."

Rover 1A has four specially-designed color cameras--three are on Rover 1B--with the cameras taking stereo photos of Ryugu's surface.

Rover1A image of Ryugu Asteroid after landing on September 23, 2018.
Rover1B image of Ryugu Asteroid after landing on September 23, 2018.

The rovers are also equipped with temperature gauges and optical sensors as well as an accelerometer and a set of gyroscopes.

Click on the link below to see a 15-second color video taken by Rover 1B of the surface.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Japan’s Space Elevator

On September 22, 2018, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) launched a rocket that is carrying two small satellites to the International Space Station (ISS) that will be used to test some new technology for a space elevator.

Space elevator? WTF is that?

Well, one day in the future, astronauts may be able to use a “space elevator” to travel from Earth up into orbit to a connecting space flight. Of course, a freight elevator would also be in use.

The space elevator concept isn’t new, as dreamers have pondered its creation since the 1880s via science fiction.

By using a space elevator, there would be an inexpensive way (less rockets and fuel) to get astronauts and cargo into space (to a station), where they could then connect and fly away easier without the cloying effects of gravity causing space ships to need higher levels of rocket power.

This Japanese space flight is carrying the STARS-Me (Space Tethered Autonomous Robotic Satellite – Mini elevator), built by engineers at Shizuoka University in Japan.

The STARS-Me is two 10-centimeter cubic satellites connected by a 10-meter-long tether.

Deployed in space, the experiment will have a small three centimeters wide x six centimeters high robot—here representing a future space elevator—travel up and down the cable using a motor.

That photo at the top - that's what the experiment will look like.

JAXA has flown other STARS-Me proto-experiments up into space for deployment, such as the dual satellites and cable, but that one did not actually have the robot attempt to move between the satellites.

I like science fiction - especially the real old stuff, like Jules Verne… and this space elevator sounds like something taken right out of his discarded notes for a novel.

But, science fiction or not, the Obayashi Corporation of Japan thinks it can turn fantasy into reality, and do it by 2050AD. In fact, Obayashi Corporation actually announced its intention to build a space elevator all the way back in 2012, and is using the engineers at Shizuoka University to help them achieve their goal.

Who the heck is the Obayashi Corporation?

Headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, the Obayashi Corporation (株式会社大林組, Kabushiki-gaisha Ōbayashi Gumi) is one of five major Japanese construction companies.

Established in 1892 in Osaka, Obayashi operates in Japan, southeast Asia, Australia, Europe and the U.S., and has constructed the Kyoto Station Building and Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) Center in Tokyo, and, the Tokyo Skytree.

The space elevator, as currently envisioned, will utilize a 96,000-kilometer-long, carbon-nanotube cable attached to a floating “Earth Port” in the ocean on one end and a space station on the other.

In my head, I see airplanes flying into the elevator. Typhoons hitting the floating Earth Port. And holy crap… have you ever been stuck in an elevator?

Can you imagine what the wait time would be to have an elevator repair man come out?

Oh my Lord Otis!

Look… I appreciate that Obayashi Corporation is aware that current technology isn’t quite there yet to make this space elevator a reality. But that’s why they are trying to create the technology. Someone has to, right?

Are we going to use transporters? No! I’m with Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy… I don’t want my atoms scattered all over space. Besides, with a transporter, it has to disassemble your atoms at one point, and reassemble them at another. Do you cease to exit when your atoms are disassembled? Are you now a copy when you are reassembled? This isn’t me wondering, this is a real scientific question for theorists.

Pundits might suggest that we begin developing flying cars… shuttles… but seriously… how many times have you seen a car on the side of the road with engine trouble or out of gas… what if that happens when you are flying?

And the accidents… will drivers stay in “air” lanes?

My way around that is to have all flying car information uploaded to the IoT/Cloud, where an “airway” cloud computer monitors all vehicles upon its “roadway”, and can essentially drive the vehicles to ensure safe travel distance between cars, and entrance and exit from the roadway…

But, in my opinion, we are even farther away in technology for the flying car than we are for a space elevator.

Maybe a space elevator is the best idea.

Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Ōsumi satellite

I'm currently reading a book on the Saturn V rocket used to propel man onto Luna, our moon, for a book review on my other blog, Pioneers of Aviation.

Looking for a subject for today, I wondered just what the first Japanese satellite was to be successfully launched into space, or Earth orbit, if you will.

That turns out to be that little jewel in the photo above, the Ōsumi aka Ohsumi.

It was named after the old Ōsumi-ken (Ōsumi prefecture), a former province of Japan in the area that is now part of Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Ōsumi satellite was launched on February 11, 1970 via a Lambda 4S-5 rocket from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima by the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, University of Tokyo, which is now part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

By successfully entering Earth's orbit, Japan became the fourth nation after the USSR, United States and France to release an artificial satellite into orbit.

The 24 kilograms (52.9 pound) Ōsumi satellite remained in orbit until August 2, 2003 before its orbit decayed and it burned up as it fell back down to Earth (around the border between Libya and Egypt.

The satellite consisted of a small observatory, which carried five experiments designed to make ionospheric observations of temperature and density, measurements of solar emission, and measurements of energetic particles.

The satellite was a regular 26-sided polygonal prism with a circumscribed radius of 75 cm. The batteries were powered by 5184 solar cells mounted on the satellite body. Average power consumption was 10.3 W.
Image via
Despite it being in space that long... over 33 years, the satellite wasn't as successful as you might think.

Upon launch, the Ōsumi satellite was supposed to have achieved a 500-kilometer circular orbit, but instead, and elliptical orbit was what occurred.

From 15:56:10 to 16:06:54, about two and a half hours after the launch, a radio signal from Ōsumi was received at Uchinoura confirming its first orbit around Earth.

The radio signal level gradually fell and the next day, February 12, during its sixth revolution (orbit), faint.

By the seventh orbit, the signal was lost, meaning it was only working for one day... less than, actually.

It is believed that the signal was lost between 14 and 15 hours after launch. It is hypothesized that the failure of the satellite was due to rapid reduction of power capacity because of higher than expected temperatures. IE... that darn elliptical orbit.

Since then, Japanese space missions have been much more successful.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at the top via Wikipedia, per Rlandmann - Own work

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Caves Of Luna

Luna, as I hope you are all aware, is the actual name of Earth’s singular moon.

Anyhow, back on October 18, 2017, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) says its Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) moon probe (It also goes by the given name of Kaguya... though Selene is also a nice name.) found a large cavern under the moon’s surface in the Marius Hills area on the near side of the moon.

By the way... in Japanese literature or folklore, there's a Princess Kaguya... she's known as the Moon Child. You can read more about that in an old blog I did HERE.  

The Kaguya probe’s most recent find shows via a lunar radar sounder, that the cave is approximately 100 meters  (~328 feet)wide and goes on for about 50 kilometers (31.07 miles).


Back in 2009, Kaguya had found a large shaft that had an opening diameter of about 50 meters (164 feet), going down about 50 meters (164 feet)… so obviously, this new cavern is much larger-er-er-er-r-r-r! 

Scientists at JAXA hope that the cavern, likely formed via ancient volcanic activity (until about 1-billion years ago) on Luna, may contain ice or even water.

As for what the cavern could mean for the future: If man goes to the moon again in manned flights, and opts to build a colony there, it could be used as a base, providing shelter from nasty cosmic radiation… or from temperature extremes.

Of course, finding water there would be a boon, as astronauts would then no-longer need to drink their own re-processed urine.

I’ll drink to that!
Andrew Joseph

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Wreck A Satellite And Take A Pay Cut For A Few Months

Okay… so I spotted this press release about two weeks earlier:

Due to the anomaly experienced with X-Ray Astronomy Satellite ASTRO-H (Hitomi), three of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s executive employees have decided to take a 10% pay cut to their monthly salary for four months, to be effective July 2016.

So… I had no idea what this was all about, and see why three executives at JAXA needed to take a pay cut.

Hmm.. turns out a very expensive black hole-spotting X-Ray astronomy satellite that was launched in February of 2016 and began observations in March - stopped working after just a few days.

Hitomi was built with help from NASA and other space agencies as a space observatory, and carried four X-Ray telescopes and two gamma-ray detectors that was supposed to help mankind learn more about Black Holes and, ultimately, the Origin of the Universe.

Sure. That would have been nice, but aside from the Black Hole data it might have culled, I doubt we would have learned anything definitive about the Origins of the Universe… I mean… they keep telling us that the age of the Universe is different from what they had thought… they don’t know why the universe isn’t as heavy as they suspect it should be (sucked into a Black Hole - and not ejected via a theorized but unproven White Hole?)… heck… they weren’t even sure about Pluto being a planet or planetoid until just recently.

It is possible that even with all the data that they found in those three days that Hitomi was working, it might be a century or more until we have the wherewithall to adequately interpret those results.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, however.

As for Hitomi: apparently, there was a report from the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center, which tracks man-made objects in orbit, noting that five pieces of debris had apparently separated from the spacecraft.

That’s not good, right?

"The pieces could be blown off insulation from an over-pressure event in one of the instruments," Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who works on other X-Ray satellites including Chandra, said on Twitter. "'Debris' doesn't mean Hitomi's in little pieces. It means little pieces have come off it. Satellite might be basically intact, we don't know."

That was back in late March. But now we do know.

At the initial signs of distress, Hitomi had begun to spin out of control - then the pieces were seen to have come apart from it - and then JAXA lost contact with it.

Below is a video shot by an amateur astronomer and posted to a National Geographic website on March 28, 2016 where via the change of shadow and light, you can see that something is spinning out of control - HERE

JAXA pretty much spent all of April trying to reestablish contact with Hitomi, but eventually announced that “it is highly likely that both solar array paddles had broken off at their bases where they are vulnerable to rotation.”

Those paddles are the ‘wing’s that essentially capture solar energy and turn it into electricity to power the whole she-bang.

Over that month, JAXA thought on three separate occasions that it had received a signal from Hitomi, but follow-ups show that she never actually called, coming from another source with a different frequency.

With the solar panels having broken off, and no electricity to power it, Hitomi is dead in space.

So… did JAXA make these three space executives fall on their sword to apologize for the mission’s failure?

Or was there more?

Quiet reports say that (shh), the Hitomi may have broken up after a poor command from mission control caused an engineering error.

What? Like accidentally bringing the wings into the satellite without closing/folding them first? That would be my outlandish guess.

Anyhow… no real biggie.

As of July 1, through October 31 - four months… three unnamed space executives at JAXA are deciding to take a 10% pay cut.


Only 10%?

What, so, based on an equivalent of a US $100,000 yearly salary, instead of earning the equivalent US $8,333.33 a month… they will for four months make the equivalent of US $7,500 a month.

They would make only US $96,666.64 this year… meaning they lost the equivalent of US $3,333.36.

How much to that satellite cost?

Hitomi cost ¥31 billion (US $273 million), which includes the cost of launching it.

Oh wait! That US $3,333.36 x three space executives = US $10,000.08. Let’s round that down to $10,000.

Of course, this presupposes that these three JAXA representatives all make an equivalent of $100,000 apiece annually.

You know… if someone did give a bad command in error, IE accidentally, I would bet that these three representatives forced (volunteering) to take a four-month pay cut are actually doing so because an underling screwed up - not because of anything they themselves did.

That seems like a Japanese thing to do.

Now... what happened to the person who really screwed up? I guess we'll find out if the next mission will be manned.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Construction By Robots On Mars

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is looking to take automated construction technologies aka robotics into space to build on the surfaces of our moon (our moon is named Luna) and Mars.

Why robotics? Well… it’s the next step in evolution for Japan, as its population continues to grow older implying that its workforce will continue to shrink as physically quickly as its aging population (people shrink as they get older)…

Also…  it’s not like we’ve even come close to putting a human being on Mars (Matt Damon excluded  - The Martian is a great movie)… and we haven’t even set foot on Earth’s moon since Apollo 17 in December 14, 1972. That’s 44 years ago… and I’m sure a few of you readers weren’t even born then!

Yes… Vietnam costs, SkyLab as the next best thing, followed by recessions, the Space Shuttle Program, terrorism battles and wars to fight which also took time, effort and money away from space exploration…

While SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Corporation and even NASA’s 2014 launch of an Orion spacecraft atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket might seem like we are taking a giant leap forward… if we have learned anything from watching movies about space travel, is that FUBARs and SNAFUs (you can look those terms up yourself) can happen… you can also point to the two Space Shuttle disasters, if you are looking for real-life crap. 

With a once-again fledgling space concept hopefully in the fold, the last thing one needs is a failure.

Or… maybe JAXA just thinks it would be cool to see what its high-tech robotics package could do in anticipation of human arrival on Luna or Mars.

The concept of constructing semi-permanent or permanent human colonies on another planet has been fuel for thought for sci-fi writers since the early 1950s… and perhaps even earlier.

In 1959, NASA - 10 years before it even landed Apollo 11 on the moon’s surface - had created studies to discuss the likelihood of erecting a military moon base. The USSR also thought that would be a good idea.

With the Cold War over and a new one chilling between the same and different combatants, NASA (US), the Russian Space Agency, European Space Agency and even some forward-thinking private architects have created plans for space bases.

In 2015, NASA even had a 3D Printed Habitat Challenge focused on creating a base on Mars, offered US$2.25 million to push along the 3D printing technology… saying: "needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond."

The Ice House.
The winner, Ice House, sought to use Mars' predicted abundance (PREDICTED!!) of sub-surface water ice to form a translucent and radiation-protective skin inside an inflatable membrane.

If JAXA has plans for what it could construct on Luna or Mars, it ain’t saying, but the space agency has contracted with Kajima Corporation (鹿島建設株式会社, Kajima Kensetsu Kabushiki-gaisha), a Japanese construction company to help plan the possible future extra-terrestrial construction. See HERE for company information.

I don’t know where Nikkei Asian Review got it’s estimate, but they seem to think that if things go as planned, JAXA could construct living quarters for four to six people on the Moon by 2030 and on Mars by 2040.
Kajima's A4CSEL automated system. Image from Kajima.
JAXA likes Kajima’s dam constructing equipment, the A4CSEL automated system (Automated Autonomous Advanced Accelerated Construction System for Safety, Efficiency, and Liability), and thinks it could be adapted to use off-planet.

Wait… Automated Autonomous Advanced Accelerated Construction System for Safety, Efficiency, and Liability… couldn’t they leave off the safety, efficiency and liability part and then just shorten the name to the more marketable A4CS… or get rid of the S and make it sound like A-Force.

Now… while one could remote-control the machine via slow radio waves… or… they could send a computerized pre-programmed machine (with the option to use radio-control, I hope… in case things go sideways).

To prove it is possible, Kajima already has pre-programmed bulldozers doing various laborious tasks.. but again… this is on Earth… what about on Luna or Mars… where red sand could flow between the electronic brain… or heck… a breakdown occurs because there’s a Murphy on Luna?  

But that’s the challenge moving forward, isn’t it?

The space machines will need to be more than a machine that blindly follows orders, it will need to have its own vision system and have it’s own AI (artificial intelligence) allowing it to alter its current path to avoid hitting something, or to use a different tool should a large boulder be found in its construction zone.

Kajima says it will use the A4CSEL to move dirt and level ground first… and then to continue its leap into forward-moving technology to have the A4CSEL attempt to build complex structures… I would assume like trying to ensure a pre-fab house can be erected.

So… the A4CSEL, as it stands right now, is a radio-controlled machine… that Kajima and JAXA feel can be updated to become a pre-programmed robotic machine… and eventually complex enough that it can perform conflict resolution and actual construction.

JAXA will begin indoor experiments to further these technologies sometime after April 2017.

I hope it works. I thought we were all supposed to have jetpacks by the beginning of the 21st century… but, I guess we are still too damn busy trying to bash each other’s brains in with a stick.

Hoping this space odyssey works,
Andrew Joseph
PS: Image at very top: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Japan Teams-Up With US To Zap Space Junk

Here's a story from Kyodo.

The image above: A Japanese H-IIA rocket with the NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA) Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory onboard blasts off from the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the Japanese southwestern island of Tanegashima, about 1,000km (621 miles) southwest of Tokyo, in this photo taken by Kyodo early February 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Kyodo).

It's about Japan planning to launch a military space force by 2019 that would initially be tasked with protecting satellites from dangerous debris orbiting the Earth.

Let's just leave it there for a second.

Since this is Japan, and all, how many others out there wonder if this military space force will include some sort of giant robot?

Yeah... me, too.

According to Kyodo news agency, this plan will strengthen Japan-US cooperation in space, and comes after the countries pledged to boost joint work on monitoring space debris.

It will also strengthen the bond between the two countries on the ground and on the sea... to help protect interests in the southern seas over possible Chinese aggression over the Ryukyu islands.

According to Kyodo, Japan would provide the U.S. military with information obtained by the force as part of the joint bid to strengthen ties in space, the so-called "fourth battlefield."

Apparently the plan is for Japan's Defence Ministry to create the space force using personnel from its own Air Self-Defence Force, also known as Japan's air force.

Damn... no robots. 

The unit would acquire radar and telescope facilities, jointly with Japan's Science Ministry and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to run its observatory operations.

There are 1,000s of pieces of space debris—including old satellites as well as pieces of rockets and other space equipment—orbiting Earth that could collide with still-functioning communications and reconnaissance satellites.

There is no mention of cost, or even where this money will be coming from for either country, or even what the U.S. will be bringing to the table.

It all sounds so 1980s-like Star Wars... not the movies, but rather the self-defense bubble that was conceived of, the SDI or Strategic Defense Initiative, that would have used missiles to defend the US against any sort of hankypanky by the then big, bag ThreeCP otherwise known as the USSR or Soviet Union.

As for zapping space junk, I still think there should be giant flying robots with lasers.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, January 20, 2014

Japan Wants To Be Your Space Garbagemen

Space garbagemen? Bet you weren't ready for that!

JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) says it has come up with a way to collect all of the litter - space junk - orbiting the Earth, and is readying a satellite to prove that the big, blue marble Earth can be a green space partner to the rest of the universe.

In case you didn't know, there are more than 20,000 bits of space junk revolving around the planet Earth in various levels of orbit.

This space junk consists of old satellites no longer working, rocket stages, cast of equipment and other detritus from all of man's ascension into space beginning with the Soviet Union's stellar Sputnik I in 1957... so that's a lot of space junk left out in orbit in the last 56+ years.

Now... the reason that JAXA is interested in playing intergalactic garbage man is that all of this debris in space is actually starting to interfere with current and future space missions.

The orbiting junk is actually contained in a band up in space that is between 800-1,400 kilometers (500-900 miles) above the Earth's surface - and according to NASA (the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the average impact speed of a piece of orbital debris running into another object is 22,370 miles per hour.

Stick out your can - here come the garbage man.
The above line was sung by Scatman Crothers on the television show Chico And The Man, and for some reason, 40 years later it still resonates in my brain.

Now... still with television, JAXA will not be the first concept of garbagemen in space... for me, that distinction goes to the quirky eight-episode only Quark, about an interstellar garbage scow.

I watched a lot of television growing up, as did members of Japan's space community.

Using what Japanese space scientists are calling an electrodynamic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum, JAXA says that one end of the strip will be attached to one piece of the space debris, and then as the electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth's magnetic field, this zapping of the junk will slow the orbiting speed of the debris and cause it to fall lower into an orbit.

Basically, as the space garbage falls lower in orbit, it will eventually fall out of orbit and then burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

At least, that's the plan. I'm guessing that in order to ensure that the space garbage - the one solitary piece of debris - actually burns up in the atmosphere, JAXA will endeavor to choose a relatively small piece of space junk to zap with its tether.

Now... don't worry. There's no need to go and hide down your rabbit hole. NASA says that a piece of debris actually falls from space about once every day, either burning up in the atmosphere or landing in the water.

Apparently the odds are always very good that space junk - should it not completely burn up in re-entry - will land in water, since the Earth is 70% covered by the stuff.

Uh... so there's only a 30% chance every day of having a tiny chunk of space junk hitting a land mass... and then less of a chance of it actually hitting a city... or a person... hmmm... the ISS didn't flush out its space poop did it?

(Even if it did, that would surely burn up in re-entry.. heck... we could be breathing in space poo particles right now!)
In 2008 an Australian farmer found space junk on his property. It apparently freaked out his pet marsupial, Jake The Peg, so much, that he had to "tie me kangaroo down, sport." 

Space Scow 54 - Where Are You?
"The experiment is specifically designed to contribute to developing a space debris cleaning method," notes Kagawa University associate professor Nohmi Masahiro (surname first), who is working with JAXA on the project, told AFP.

Now... unlike say the long wait between Star Wars movies, JAXA says the satellite containing the electrodynamic tether will be launched on February 28, 2014.

"We have two main objectives in the trial next month," he said. "First, to extend a 300-meter (1,000-foot) tether in orbit and secondly to observe the transfer of electricity."

Awwww. That means that at least on this space trip there won't be any burning of space trash.

You know... here in Toronto it's against the law to burn your own trash.

Oh well... I am sure that JAXA doesn't care about Toronto's puritanical green thinking... but I wonder... is JAXA so altruistic that it's willing to clean up everyone else's mess for free? Or does it have a deeper problem, like some sort of obsessive compulsive cleaning disorder?

Andrew Joseph
PS: Today's blog is brought to you by the Steve Miller Band, Star Wars, Chico And The Man, Car 54 Where Are You?, Alice in Wonderland, Rolf Harris, and Quark. I think that's enough name dropping for one blog.
PPS: Space junk image at the top is courtesy of NASA.

Friday, May 31, 2013

My LEGO Hayabusa Spacecraft Model

This is what I got in the mail a few days ago! It's the CUUSOO club LEGO Hayabusa kit!

I had only previously heard of it being on sale in Japan only... or exaggeratedly priced on E-Bay, and thus out of my somewhat meager price range... but then I decided to poke around the LEGO website - and lo and behold! They were offering the kit as an exclusive model for a mere $59.99 Cdn. I also got a small Iron Man Minifig with some dumb alien drone for free...

So I built it.

At a total of 369 pieces, I figured I'd be done in 20 minutes because despite being the type of person who likes to go long and slow, I like to challenge myself with how fast I can build an actual kit... mostly to assure myself that my seven-year-old son doesn't surpass me. I'm not ready for that yet.

(I should mention that my son played his first organized soccer game earlier this evening... and while I feared he would stink, he was the best player on our team and made me feel proud... and yes "our team"... I'm the ass coach... I mean assistant coach. That first coaching comment - that's something completely different and has no place in this space, though we did get our butt kicked 3-0).

So... I took my time... it took about three hours or more... while I hated the fact that the kit came with the bricks in something like five bags, the step-by-step instructions had me searching from one bag to the next for the required bricks. So I said screw it and dumped it onto the table I use to build my LEGO, so that I can watch TV and come up with yet another great story about Japan.

Yes... how is this about Japan? Well, the Hayabusa is a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spacecraft whose goal was to take soil samples from asteroids.

Asteroids, if you will recall, are plentiful in the orbit around our sun (Sol) between the planets Mars and Jupiter. basically, these chunks of rock might have formed into another planet, but its proximity to Jupiter's gravitational pull made it impossible for the rocks to accrete into a planet.

Why the asteroid soil sample? Well, it is hoped that the samples could tell us (people) more about the origins of the solar system, as its untouched surface would contain a far better record of the planet-forming time of our solar system than other planets which are bombarded by meteor(ites), or are covered in dust or gases.

The Hayabusa went up into space on May 9, 2003 launching from the Kagoshima Space Center (now called the Uchinoura Space Center). It's four ion engines (the main power) are weak, but have great fuel efficiency, and after two long years it rendezvoused with the asteroid in September of 2005.

It surveyed the asteroid dubbed 25143 Itokawa, after famed pioneering Japanese rocket scientist Dr. Itokawa Hideo (surname first) from a distance of about 20 kilometers before it moved in for a closer look, with an attempted landing taking place on November 20, 2005.

Although a sensor noted an obstacle during the Hayabusa's autonomous landing that destabilized its attitude, the space craft bounced a few times on the surface before achieving a safe landing.. though it sat leaning at an angle for about 30 minutes.

It lifted off and then on November 26, 2005 it landed a second time.

The way this spacecraft was designed to collect soil sample, was that it was supposed to fire pellets into the surface of the asteroid just before it landed so that the 'dust' could land on its sampling horn. 

The problem was that no pellets were fired on this second landing. Still there was hope that the two landing impacts would have kicked up enough dust.

The irregular-shaped Itokawa (the asteroid) is small, measuring only 535 m x 294m x 209m. It's smooth in some areas, and rocky in others.

Anyhow... mission accomplished, right? Wrong.

It now had to come back home with the samples. Unfortunately the spacecraft lost contact with the Space Center for about six weeks.

That problem, and other minor glitches actually added an extra three years to the return flight... as all but one of the ion engines failed. Luckily working from the Space Center, the space team managed to combine parts of two of the failed ion engines into one additional ion engine.

On June 13, 2010, Hayabusa made it home.

The analysis of the soil samples taken by Hayabusa (the largest was only 0.3mm in size), show that it contained bits of olivine, pyroxene, plagioclase and iron sulfide.

Scientists figure this stuff has been there for millions of years, and that the asteroid itself is actually part of the interior of a larger asteroid that broke apart - hence the smooth and rocky appearances.

Anyhow... that should be enough on the real space craft. Back to mine.

I was having fun building this model... and everything was running smoothly until I had a problem of my own... I couldn't get one of the LEGO Black Technic Axle and Pin Connector (angled) to allow a pin to be inserted through its hole.

I tried and tried for a long time - maybe 10 seconds - before I peered more closely at it. Realizing I needed my glasses for that closer look, I put them on. Hmm... this piece did not have a circular opening for a round pin... it had an opening that would fit a cross-shaped pin.

Oh no! Those bastards gave me one wrong piece out of the four I needed.
The left piece has an interior cross, the right a circular opening. I needed one more circular piece.

Really. I had three that worked, and one that didn't. It was sort of like the opposite of what happened to the Hayabusa ion engines! Sort of. Work with me on this one.

So... I suppose I could call and bitch to LEGO customer service the next day and then wait two weeks for the stinking part to arrive... I couldn't build without it... it held the wing to the Hayabusa! Just adding one wing would through it off balance and cause it to crash.

This is all true stuff, by the way.

So... I figured I would try and search for a replacement piece by going through my bags and bags of LEGO. Going through shopping bag number three containing just black LEGO weird peieces - I found a replacement.

Snapped it on and powered back on my LEGO build.

I'm not bothering LEGO for a replacement part... they've been too good to me already and I don't want to look like a weenie whining about one missing brick. It's not worth my time, or theirs, or the cost for them to mail me the correct piece. But... if you, dear LEGO, need to know... I did purchase it from your website... if that helps you with quality assurance.

It's done. By the way... you may have noticed a bespectacled male Minifig standing underneath my model. That is a representation of Haybusa project manager Kawaguchi Junichiro (surname first).

You know you have made it as a complete nerd when you have your own LEGO Minifig.

I also love the fact that the kit came with a beautiful, color done square-bound 92-page instruction manual that contained lots of facts about the Hayabusa mission that I have re-written in this blog - to
hopefully make it clearer to you (and to me!).

And here is the final product! Tres cool! I added the blue plates behind it so you didn't have to see me watching some Joss Whedon show and get all jealous.

And even though this opens up so many jokes, I'm going to say it anyway. I had always wanted to go up into space... to be a Captain Kirk-like figure and boldly go where no man had gone before... with some green woman who looks liked Batgirl. Or maybe that's a more recent dream.

Andrew Joseph

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The First Japanese Woman In Space

With U.S. Astronaut Sally Ride recently passing away (d. July 23, 2012)—she was the first American woman in space—it got me wondering just who the first Japanese woman was in space.

Chances are I could have said 'any number of my ex-girlfriends', but let's keep it to the professionals... no... that will still not disqualify some of my ex-girlfriends... let's just say professional Japanese astronauts.

The honor goes to Mukai Chiaki (surname first).

Mukai, along with Doi Takao and Mohri Mamoru (both surname first) were chosen back in 1985 to be Japan's first astronauts... and just so you all know... the other two (Doi and Mohri) are men.

Doi spent 31 days-19 hours-and 35 minutes in space. Mohri spent 19 days-04 hours-and 9 minutes in space.

Mukai... she spent 23 days-15 hours-and 39 minutes in space.

Time in space is the astronaut equivalence of who's got the biggest penis. Mukai is playing with the big the boys.

Born on May 6, 1952 in Tatebaya-shi, Gunma-ken, Mukai was an assistant professor in the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery in Keio University.

But... despite the sexist title of being the first Japanese woman in space, she is actually the first Japanese astronaut to go into space twice. Man or woman.

That's frickin' awesome. Actually, I was already impressed with her cardio workout.

Mukai's two flights were aboard NASA's Space Shuttle missions.

  1. STS-65, Space Shuttle Columbia, July 8-23, 1994. This was a Spacelab mission to conduct  research in a microgravity environ. She was the Payload Specialist.
  2. STS-95, Space Shuttle Discovery, October 29 - November 7, 1998. She was the Payload Specialist #1. The flight was more famous because of who Payload Specialist #2 was: John Glenn (US Senator John H. Glenn Jr.), who had the right stuff to become the oldest person to fly in space (77-years-old), after being the third human and first American to orbit Earth (after Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov).  
Let me tell you, after John Glenn, no one on the planet knew or cared who was on that flight - except the true science geeks. I should mention, however, that on STS-95, Mission Specialist #1 Pedro Duque was the first person from Spain to fly in space.

While I don't know her blood type, she is married and is interested in: skiing, bass fishing, scuba diving, tennis, golf, photography, American literature and traveling. Damn... she sounds like she is retired!

In 2007, Fuji Television in Japan created a special episode on the life of Mukai on its program "A Woman's Biography".

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Japan's Space Experiment Craft: ISS Kibo

I love space exploration.

Actually, if you were to see my home, you would know I hate space and prefer organized clutter filled with art (paintings, ukiyo-e and my photographs), book cases and books, LEGO dioramas, and dog and cat hair (not preferred, but it's there again immediately after vacuuming!).

But I have had an affinity for space and all it represents for mankind since I watched Apollo 11 land on the moon back in 1969.

I watched every Apollo mission after that, saw the Apollo-Soyuz mission (built a Revell model of it, too), watched Viking take off, saw the first space shuttle mission, watched in horror while watching Challenger explode after lift-off (I watched it live at a friend's dorm at York University), and years later watched Columbia burn up in re-entry.

I have spent hours watching with the unaided eye a satellite triangulate in the sky. I have watched meteor showers, so-called shooting stars, watched the launching of the Hubble Space Telescope (and cringed when it was discovered to initially be blurry!), dreamed of flying in space, daring to go where no man has gone before...

I have studied astronomy in university and can even calculate the height of mountains on the moon by studying the length of shadow of it in a photograph. As a 14-year-old watching 2001: Space Odyssey for the first time, I guessed that the monolith was actually a fuel cell to one day ignite the brown-dwarf star Jupiter turning it into a sun, making out solar system a more common binary star system, rather than the strangely rare single star system. The movie 2010, proved me correct.

And yet... I have never looked through a telescope in my life. Not even the stars will wait forever, I guess.

So... you can tell I really enjoy my space science, and have been completely bummed out that man has not flown to the moon or beyond since landing for the last time on the moon's surface with Apollo 17 back in 1972, and even more pissed off that NASA has been forced to retire the space shuttle missions without an actual replacement plan!

It's why I am glad to hear about such things as the International Space Station (ISS), and some of the cool stuff the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) is doing.

The ISS - International Space Station

It's these two entities that give me hope. And... I want you to know that I wrote that last sentence before I knew what 'kibo' meant in English. Read on...

Today, let's look the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), which is more affectionately known as Kibo (きぼう), which translates into 'Hope' in English.

Kibo is a Japanese science module for the International Space Station (ISS) that was developed by JAXA. It is the largest single ISS module and is situated in Earth's orbit.

Kibo was launched into space via three space shuttle missions, STS-123, STS-124and STS-127,  though it was operational after the first two launches of components.

Kibo consists of six components: the Pressurized Module (PM); Exposed Facility (EF); Experiment Logistics Module-Pressurized Section (ELM-PS); Experiment Logistics Module-Exposed Section (ELM-ES); Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS), and; the Inter-orbit Communication System (ICS).

The Pressurized Module (PM) is cylindrical in shape, and is where experiments utilizing the microgravity environment will be conducted. Of the 23 international Standard Payload Racks, 10 are racks are for science experiment. The Exposed Facility, Experiment Logistics Module and the Remote manipulator are all connected to the PM.

Affectionately known as the Terrace, the Exposed Facility (EF) is located outside the ISS, outside of the port cone of the PM, and is accessible through the PM airlock. Exposed to outer space at all times, the EF and the truss facilities, are the only locations where the space environment can directly be utilized by the crew. The EF houses experiments that need to be exposed to outer space. 

The Experiment Logistics Module (ELM) consists of two sections:
  • The Japanese Experiment Logistics Module, Pressurized Section (ELM-PS) –- also called the JLP –- is a pressurized addition to the PM. The module is a storage facility that provides storage space for experiment payloads, samples and spare items;
  • The unpressurized (external) section (ELM-ES) will serve the EF. It is intended as a storage and transportation module.
The Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) is a robotic arm to support experiments conducted on the Exposed Facility. The main arm handles large items, while a smaller arm (the 'Small Fine Arm') can be attached to the main arm for more delicate work. The main arm is equipped with a TV camera allowing astronauts to monitor the operation from inside the pressurized module.


Pressurized Module
Length: 11.19 m (36.7 ft)
Diameter: 4.39 m (14.4 ft)
Mass: 14,800 kg (32,600 lb) 

Experiment Logistics Module
Length: 4.21 m (13.8 ft)
Diameter: 4.39 m (14.4 ft)
Mass: 8,386 kg (18,488 lb)

Anyhow... Kibo is doing experiments up in space. I know, many of my good friends think it is a waste of taxpayers money, and I really can't say I blame them... but as I said... it gives me hope for the future.

Some of the planned experiments for Kibo include:
 - MAXI X-ray astronomy from 0.5 to 30 keV.
 - SMILES observes and monitors very weak sub-millimeter wave emission lines of trace gas molecules in the stratosphere.
 - SEDA-AP (Space Environment Data Acquisition equipment-Attached Payload) measures neutrons, plasma, heavy ions, and high-energy light particles in ISS orbit. 
 - HREP (Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO) & Remote Atmospheric & Ionospheric Detection System (RAIDS) Experimental Payload)

Here's what JAXA has to say about Kibo:
 JAXA (has contacted) universities and other academic institutions to offer experiment themes for utilizing the Kibo, and conducts collaborative research with private companies. We also began a system of Kibo usage through which the private sector can use the Kibo with some fees.
We hope that space experiments and application will become more familiar to our lives through the Kibo.

What does this mean for us here on Earth? I have no bloody idea. And yet, I blindly hope it means something - something substantial that will help make a difference for us all. Really.

But... I really like that we continue to be curious about space. We are a part of it... why should we not know more about it? It has always helped me rediscover hope whenever I hear about a new mission.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Japanese Astronaut Flying In Russian Spacecraft

Here's some cool news for fans of Japan's space exploration.

The launch date for Japanese astronaut Hoshide Akihiko (surname first, but you can call him Aki) aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for eventual destination aboard the ISS (International Space Station) has been set for July 15, 2012.

The spacecraft - dubbed 31S/TMA-05M, will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Astronaut Hoshide will stay at the ISS as part of the space program designated as an Expedition 32/33 crew member for about four months to perform scientific experiments using the space environment, ISS system operation, and robotics operation. 

Born in December 28, 1968 in the Setagaya district of Tokyo, he apparently grew up in New Jersey, USA - he has already flown one mission to the ISS aboard STS-124 as the payload commander and has already enjoyed some 13 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes and seven seconds in space. For your information, STS stands for the Space Transportation System, also known as the space shuttle.

According to his biography on the NASA website, Hoshide enjoys flying, rugby football, swimming, snow skiing, and traveling - the latter is something he will be doing a hell of a lot of come this summer

Hoshide graduated from the United World College of South-East Asia, Singapore, in 1987; received a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Keio University in 1992, and a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering in 1997.

As for his space career, he joined the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) in 1992, and for two years worked as a member of its Nagoya Office involved in the development of the H-II launch vehicle.

Between 1994 to 1999, he worked as an astronaut support engineer for the NASDA Astronaut Office, supporting the development of the astronaut training program and the evaluation of crew interface designs. He also supported astronaut Koichi Wakata during his training and mission on STS-72.

In February 1999, Hoshide was selected by NASDA - now known as JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) as one of three Japanese astronaut candidates for the International Space Station.

He began participating in the ISS Astronaut Basic Training program in April 1999 and was certified as an astronaut in January 2001. He then took ISS Advanced Training, as was supporting the development of the hardware and operation of the Japanese Experiment Module “Kibo” and the H-IIA Transfer Vehicle (HTV).

In May 2004, he completed Soyuz-TMA Flight Engineer-1 training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC), Star City, Russia.

He then went to work at  the Johnson Space Center in May 2004, and in February of 2006, he completed Astronaut Candidate Training that included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in Shuttle and International Space Station systems, physiological training, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training.

Completion of this initial training qualified him for various technical assignments within the Astronaut Office, and he has worked as a capsule communicator CAPCOM in Mission Control Center for the ISS and the Space Shuttle, as well as supported technical coordination for Kibo and HTV. He completed his first space flight on STS-124 in 2008

Aboard the STS-124 Discovery (May 31 to June 14, 2008) - the 123rd Space Shuttle flight, and the 26th Shuttle flight to the International Space Station, the STS-124 docked with the ISS on June 2, 2008 to deliver the Japanese Experiment Module-Pressurized Module (JEM-PM) and the Japanese Remote Manipulator System.

The shuttle crew also delivered the 37-foot (11-meter) Kibo lab (more on this tomorrow!), relocated its rooftop storage room, performed three spacewalks required to maintain the station and primed the new Japanese module and its robotic arm for work during nine docked days at the orbiting laboratory.

Hoshide worked primarily on the outfitting, activation, and reconfiguration of the Kibo module, as well as deploying the Kibo robotic arm from its launch configuration and conducting initial checkout.

He also operated the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) to install the Kibo Module to the ISS. The STS-124 mission was completed in 218 orbits, traveling 5,735.643 miles in 13 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes and seven seconds.

Hoshide is assigned and in training as one of the long duration crew member for Expedition 32/33.

Files compiled by Andrew Joseph