Monday, June 14, 2010

JAXA and cool Japanese science

You may have heard about the before (or maybe not) but JAXA is the Japanese space agency (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).
If you've been following my blog you have seen me mention a Japanese astronaut called Soichi Noguchi. He's the one who's been tweeting us all those amazing images of Earth, from the ISS.

But JAXA has done a lot more than just send Soichi into space.
You can read more about the different JAXA missions here at the JAXA space exploration center.

In 2007 they launched their SELENE/Kaguya lunar orbiter which took a lot of images and measurements of the moon, including a detailed gravity map of the Moon's far side. It also featured two HD cameras which took a lot of amazing pictures of the lunar surface (such as this 3D-tour of the crater Tycho or this amazing set of Earthrise and Earthset-images [both links point to the Bad Astronomer's blog, which links back to the JAXA main site]).
The orbiter also took images of the Apollo landing sites.

SELENE was intentionally crashed into the Moon in mid 2009.

A couple of days ago the Japanese unfolded their IKAROS solar sail in space and they'll test it over the next 6 months or so. The sail is a "hybrid" solar sail in that not only does it operate as a normal solar sail (being pushed forward by the solar wind), but the sail also contains a thin film of solar cells which can supply the craft with electric energy from the sun.Using solar sails we could potentially be able to more and/or larger probes to other planets in our solar system, cheaper than we do now.

Along with IKAROS another probe was launched, called AKATSUKI. Its mission is to fly to Venus and observe the volcanoes on the planet and the climate in its atmosphere.

Hayabusa is a small unmanned spacecraft which was launched in 2003 with the mission of going to the asteroid Itokawa, land, pick up a sample and return that sample to Earth.

The craft had been plagued with problems, including a solar flare damaging its solar panels and loss of some manoeuvrability, but after 5 billion kilometres, it's now back on Earth. And the sample return capsule has been recovered.

The Bad Astronomer has a post about the re-entry of the probe here (with video) and Universe Today also discusses the end of the mission (with similar video).

And here's a great NASA site about the re-entry of the spacecraft with very cool pictures, more video and  more explanations.

The video is taken from a NASA DC-8 and shows the re-entry of the Hayabusa probe.

All in all, Japanese space science rocks!