In The Beginning . . .

Japan: One Of The First Spacefaring Nations

First Spacefarers     Satellites     Rockets     Surveying the Moon     Exploring Planets

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) merged the former National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA), Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), and National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL).

Satellites are part of daily life, used around the world for communications, weather forecasting, navigation, observing land, sea and air, scientific research, military reconnaissance and numerous other purposes. Hundreds of men and women have lived and worked aboard manned satellites -- space shuttles and space stations -- in Earth orbit.

Launching its own satellite to orbit shows a nation has a rocket powerful enough for space launches. The majority of satellites have been built by Russia and the United States, but the countries of Western Europe in the European Space Agency, as well as Japan, China, India, Canada, Israel, Brazil and others have been actively engaged in satellite development.

Spacefaring nations. Japan's space program began with a handful of university professors launching pencil-sized rockets in 1955. Eventually, in 1970, Japan became the fourth among the first countries able to launch their own satellites to orbit, after the USSR, the United States and France.

Japan's first. Japan launched its first satellite, Ohsumi-1, to orbit February 11, 1970. That launch made Japan the fourth nation with a space rocket powerful enough to launch satellites to Earth orbit, after the USSR, the U.S. and France. Later that year, China launched its first satellite, Mao-1, to Earth orbit April 24, 1970, on a Long March rocket.

Late start. Japan got a late start in space work under restrictions at the end of World War II and had been using technology from the U.S. It had low space budgets, spending only $1.06 billion for space projects last year.

Building a respectable launch record, Japan enjoyed a 100 percent success rate with its smaller N-series rockets and nearly 100 percent success with its larger H-1 rockets. NASDA had its first failure in 20 launches in August 1989 when the first stage of an H-1 rocket failed to ignite.

Launch sites. The country also has a shortage of good launch sites. Kagoshima Space Center is at the southern tip of Japan. Rockets are fired toward space from a pad on small Tanegashima Island offshore. Japan has made two dozen launches since 1975 from Tanegashima Island.

The Uchinoura pad at Kagoshima Space Center and the pad on Tanagashima Island, Japan's two launch sites, are very small when compared with space centers in other nations. Because tuna fishermen near the center complain that blastoffs are dangerous, launches are permitted in a 90-day period each year – 45 days in January-February and 45 days in August.

Kagoshima. Kyushu, a mountainous island with famous peaks rising to 6,500 ft., is southernmost of the four main islands of Japan. One prefecture in Kyushu is Kagoshima whose two million people mostly are foresters and coastal fishermen.

The ancient seaport city of Kagoshima is a well-protected harbor on the the west coast of Kagoshima Bay, a deep inlet on the southern coast of Kyushu. For centuries, Kagoshima was the castle city of a powerful daimyo of the Satsuma clan. The city was bombarded by British warships in 1863, destroyed by fire in 1877, damaged by eruption of the volcano On-take on an island in the bay in 1914, and bombed from June to August 1945 by planes of the Allies in World War II. Today the city, with a population of half a million, is best known for its Satsuma ware.

Dozens launched. Since the Ohsumi launch in 1970, Japan's space program has relied more on resourceful engineering than large budgets. Japan has launched some five dozen spacecraft since 1970 with a third of the satellites still in operation.

ISAS. Japan's science research projects in space have been sponsored by Japan's government-funded Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS). Affiliated with the Education Ministry.

Japan's other space agency, the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), focuses on applied uses of space. For instance, NASDA developed the powerful H-2a rocket to lift payloads comparable to those carried by U.S., Soviet and European rockets. Japan's Science and Technology Agency, part of NASDA, developed communications and weather satellites.

Both ISAS and NASDA were preparing for future manned space flights and interplanetary travel. For example, the Muses-A mission to the Moon gave Japan valuable experience in targeting orbits and in the use of swing-bys to guide future spacecraft traveling to distant planets. That probe was followed by Muses-B to Mars and Muses-C to an asteroid.

In 2003, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was created by merging the former National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA), Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), and National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL).