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As academic and commercial interest in space development has heightened, so the role of satellites has become increasingly significant. Japan has a strong record of satellite launches, and the subsequent performance of these satellites has made important contributions to the global community in many ways.

Kounotori (Japanese word for “stork”) is the nickname of the H-II transfer vehicle (HTV), an unmanned cargo transfer spacecraft. Just like storks that are associated with delivering babies and good fortune, the HTV transports important goods from Earth to the International Space Station (ISS). The HTV is programmed to automatically approach and dock with the ISS, which is orbiting at an altitude of about 400 km, and has supplied goods such as replacement parts for the space station, daily necessities for astronauts, and experimental equipment. Mitsubishi Electric is responsible for developing the electric modules that form the brain of the HTV.

Kounotori successfully launched and docked in 2009 (also known as Kounotori 1), 2011 (2), 2012 (3), 2014 (4) and 2015 (5). As of 2015, missions for the current version of the HTV are expected to continue until 2019 for its ninth flight. The current version will be replaced by an improved and reduced-cost HTV-X (provisional name), which is currently being developed with a target launch date of 2021.

The Himawari is a multifunctional geostationary meteorological satellite used in aviation control and weather-related operations. The Himawari (meaning ‘sunflower’) contains a next-generation aviation control system used for the transfer of information on communications, observations, aviation, and traffic control. In terms of its meteorological function, the Himawari is engaged in activities of meteorological observation through imagery, and the collection and distribution of meteorological information. The satellite is of such a high standard that is a consistent and considerable performer in the competitive international bidding market.
From July 7, 2015, every Japanese national weather forecast will make use of images captured by Himawari 8. Himawari 8 is equipped with a world-leading next-generation weather observation sensor (visible and infrared radiometer). This will improve image resolution as well as increase the number of channels, making it possible to obtain the first color photographs from a geostationary meteorological satellite. This will help meteorologists to observe yellow sands and volcanic smokes that were until now difficult to differentiate from ordinary clouds. Furthermore, the interval at which photographs are taken has also improved, dropping from Himawari 7’s once every 30 minutes to once every 10 minutes, and reducing the interval between photographs of the area around Japan to once every 2.5 minutes.   
Foreign weather satellites launched in the near future will be equipped with the same generation of technology as Himawari 8, and Himawari 8’s trailblazing start has attracted attention all over the world.


Source: Japan Meteorological Agency website


The Hayabusa (meaning ‘peregrine falcon’) was a small exploratory spacecraft launched by the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) at 13:29:25 on March 9, 2003 (Japan time). It attempted the world’s first asteroid sample return. It rendezvoused with its target, the Apollo asteroid 25143 Itokawa, in 2005, and successfully retrieved a sample of material to be returned to Earth. Hayabusa experienced some subsequent trouble, but problems were successfully overcome through the application of advanced Japanese technology, and the Hayabusa returned to Earth at 22:51 on June 13, 2010, after a journey of around 6 billion km, landing near Woomera in Australia. The capsule contained the collected particles. Every participating research institution has now begun to research the material collected.

On December 3, 2014, the Japanese H2A26 rocket that carried the Hayabusa 2 launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan. Hayabusa 2 is headed for the asteroid 1993JU3, which is in between Earth and Mars, about 300 million kilometers away from Earth.

Japan has an outstanding record in the development and operation of technology for the manufacturing, launch, and operation of satellites. These achievements have contributed considerably to communications, broadcast, and meteorological observation. Japan’s satellite technology also is expected to play an important role in the observation of space, in relation to research on the origins of the universe, dark matter, and dark energy.

May 11, 2011
July 27, 2015 / October 8, 2015 revised

About the author
Eriko Kinashi and Hiromi Jitsukata is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON
(Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)