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International Space Station Japanese Experiment Module Kibo


The International Space Station (ISS) is a gigantic experimental facility which orbits the Earth at an altitude of 400 kilometers. It is around the size of a soccer field, weighs approximately 420 tons, and travels at a speed of 7.7 kilometers per second, completing each orbit around the Earth in 90 minutes. Six astronauts are stationed on the base to conduct research experiments and to make observations of the Earth and other astronomical objects.

The ISS grew out of the program for a massive, permanently manned, Earth-orbiting space station, initially proposed by the United States in the early 1980s. After overcoming various twists and turns, construction began in 1999 and was completed in July 2011. The Intergovernmental Agreement on Space Station Cooperation drawn up in 1998 listed fifteen countries – USA, Russia, Canada, Japan, and ESA (European Space Agency) affiliated countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK) – to participate in the program. From the beginning of the program, Japan has not only contributed financially but has also showed the desire to develop and operate an ISS module, and was eventually officially charged with the role of providing the Japanese Experiment Module, as well as a cargo transfer spacecraft for delivering supplies. Since then, Japan has played an active part in the development and operation of the ISS.

Currently, Japan’s basic role in the ISS program includes operation of the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo (“hope” in Japanese) and the H-II Transfer Vehicle/HTV (a.k.a. Kounotori). In accordance with Japan’s rights to send astronauts as part of role-sharing, six Japanese astronauts have served on the ISS to date, notably Astronaut Koichi Wakata who acted as ISS commander in 2014. For the berthing of the Kounotori in 2015 for a resupply mission, Astronaut Kimiya Yui aboard the ISS and other Japanese members at the control center on the ground led successful operations. As such, Japan has contributed to the human resource aspects of the program as well. In July 2016, Astronaut Takuya Onishi arrived at the ISS as a long-term crew member.

Japan’s “hope” in the sky

The Kibo Experiment Module is the first Japanese manned space facility. Kibo is the largest experiment module amongst those on the ISS and it has its own special facilities and equipment that enable various unique research programs, focusing on work in the fields of space medicine, life sciences, applied material science, Earth and astronomical observations, and communications technology.
When Japan joined the International Space Station Program, four goals were set out, as listed below (Reference: “Basic Initiatives Relating to Participation in the Space Station Program” (April 1985) Space Activities Commission Space Station Program Focus Group (in Japanese only)). In the 30 years since joining, Japan has fulfilled many aspects of these goals through the Kibo mission.

1. Acquisition of High Technology
Through supporting the development and operation of manned orbiting facilities, approximately 650 companies within Japan have succeeded in achieving and significantly advancing the necessary skills and technology for space development and exploration. Examples include the following.
  • System maintenance functionality technology
  • Life maintenance technology for space activities
  • Robotic technology (through Kibo’s robotic arm)
  • Technology to improve skills of flight control operators
  • Flight control and supporting technology for manned facilities
  • Know-how of selecting and training crew members
  • Working knowledge of a crew’s activities and procedures in space
  • Knowledge of how to direct the crews
  • Health management skills of the crews
  • Unmanned supply delivery technology for manned facilities – Japan’s rendezvous technique with ISS has been recognized for its high level of safety and reliability. This technology was adopted by ISS as their standard system.
2. Promotion of Next Generation Science and Technology and Expansion of the Range of Space Activities
Kibo has expanded the range of possible space activities; scientific observations and experiments which were impossible on the ground can now be conducted, and increasingly in-demand satellites can also be launched from Kibo. The following are some specific examples.
  • X-ray astronomical observations from Kibo’s exposed facility have led to the discovery of new planets and other internationally significant results.
  • By releasing microsatellites using its unique robotic arm and airlocks, Kibo has made contributions to the advancement of the space activities of private sector companies as well as research and educational institutions.
  • Kibo helped to acquire health management techniques in space including support technology from the ground, which would aid in further development of human space activities in the future.
3. Contribution to International Cooperation
Japan has increased its presence in the field of space technology by participating in international space development. Participating nations value Japan as a reliable partner, and Japan has been establishing itself as a permanent core member of research in space. The following are examples of achievement.
  • Half of Kibo’s experimental facilities are currently used by the US and Canada.
  • Kounotori has been successfully undertaking work as the ISS’s cargo supply aircraft for international use.
  • Until April 2013, Japan served as chair for the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECC), containing 14 space agency members, which promotes international cooperation and review of technology developed for and used in the space exploration program.
  • The International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF) for the discussion of space exploration policy was chosen to be held in Japan in 2016 or 2017. Japan will serve a main role in building international frameworks and timeframes for space exploration at a policy level.
  • Japan and Russia are collaborating on experiments such as protein crystal growth and radiation measurement.
  • Japan provides data and information relating to disasters on Earth, observed from the ISS by their astronauts and cameras on the exposed facility.

4. Promotion of Application of Space Environment
Over the course of this long-running program, the main goal has shifted from that of “practical application of the space environment” to “the space environment serving a role in practical applications on Earth”. In this framework, knowledge that brings us closer to understanding the core mechanisms in science, such as that of materials and life forms, is being acquired. The following are some examples of the experiments in progress.
  • Protein crystal growth experiments
  • Space medical experiments on astronauts
  • Animal and plant cell experiments
  • Crystal growth experiments
Kibo moves towards the future
Although the ISS operation program was originally due to end in 2016, the governments of both Japan and the USA have signed an agreement to extend the operation of the space station until 2024, thereby officially approving Japan’s extended participation in the operation.
Currently, private companies are actively making commercial use of the ISS, and we expect Kibo to be used as a base for unique manned operations in the space environment. As of 2014, Japan’s 2020 outlook of space activities includes making use of Kibo to develop and test products and techniques in close collaboration with the private sector, where themes that are related to Japan’s national science and technology strategy are addressed (ISS-Space Exploration Subcommittee of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan (second meeting minutes)). The outlook also states that these efforts will increase Kibo’s practicality and value, making Kibo an essential piece of infrastructure that is indispensable to society by 2021.
Now, more and more nations are launching programs to take on the challenges posed by the space frontier. This has bred both fierce competition and mutual cooperation alike between nations, leading humankind to make slow but steady progress in the exploration of the vast ocean of space. Japan has played a leading role in this process through its contribution of technological and human resources, which are of the highest standards in the world.
Kibo is Japan’s symbol for international cooperation and technology development in space exploration. We expect Kibo to help us acquire new knowledge and technology, and ultimately play an important role in human advancement and opening the door to new possibilities in the oft-called “final frontier”.

Aug 19, 2016

About the author
Hiromi Jitsukata is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON

Major Components of the Experiment Module
(One of the components was returned to the
ground after its work was completed due to
changes from the original plan.)
Pressurized Module
The interior is maintained at one atmosphere,
the same as the Earth’s atmospheric pressure
at sea level. This allows the crew to wear the
same clothing as they would on the ground as
they perform experiments that take advantage
of the reduced gravitational environment. It can
accommodate twenty-three racks including
control/management system racks, international
standard payload racks for laboratory
equipment, and stowage racks for storage use.
Of the twenty-three racks, up to ten are
experiment racks in which biological and
materials science experiments are primarily
conducted. An airlock that connects the inside
of the module with the exposed facility is
installed for the purpose of transferring or
exchanging laboratory equipment, although it
cannot be used by astronauts in spacesuits.
Since the ISS does not have any other airlocks
designed for the transfer of equipment in and out
of the station, Kibo is able to perform unique
missions, one such example being the release
of microsatellites.
Shape Cylindrical
Diameter Outer 4.4 m
Inner 4.2 m
Length 11.2 m
Mass 14.8 tons
Number of Racks 23
(System Racks:11,
International Standard
Payload Racks:12 (10
payload racks、1 freezer
rack, 1 storage rack))
Externally Supplied Power Maximum 24 kW at 120 V (DC)