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Exploring the moon, Mars using commercial technologies

  • January 17, 2017
  • , p. 34-35
  • JMH Translation

By Katsuhiko Sugiyama


The International Space Station (ISS) is slated to come out of service in 2024. Meanwhile, however, space agencies around the world as well as private sector players are engaging in fierce competition to develop next-generation rockets and spacecrafts, with the common goal of recovering and reusing launch vehicles.


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is upgrading the Epsilon, a next-generation solid-fuel rocket, and is also developing the H3, a successor to the H2A. Meanwhile, it is flexing its technological muscle in converting its unmanned resupply spacecraft Konotori into a manned spacecraft to transport and collect biological samples for life sciences experiments on the ISS.


The space community is currently most interested in the Moon and Mars. Most of the mysteries surrounding the Moon have been solved through detailed observational data gathered from lunar exploration satellite Kaguya, which was launched in 2007. This has resulted in a shift in technological focus from exploration to utilization. The next step is exploring and utilizing Mars.


JAXA plans to launch small lunar-lander SLIM using Epsilon. JAXA is supporting Hakuto (Minato Ward), a Tokyo-based venture taking part in a Google-sponsored contest challenging privately funded spaceflight teams to be the first to land a privately funded robotic spacecraft on the Moon [and have it travel 500 meters and transmit back high-definition video and images].


JAXA has long focused on developing technologically advanced small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by procuring parts from them. In recent years, however, more and more SMEs seek to enter the space business when a miniature satellite they and universities manufacture is piggybacked on a launch.


A venture called Axelspace Corporation (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo) is scheduled to launch 50 microsatellites by 2022. Also, PD Aerospace (Nagoya City) is developing a next-generation engine that switches between jet and rocket modes.


Space exploration technology is ultra high tech even compared to other technical fields and has given rise to a variety of technological breakthroughs that have spun off into other disciplines. Recently, however, the trend is reversing where commercial technologies have been converted for aerospace use.


Securities Market Securities Code Company Details
 Tokyo Stock Exchange (first section) 3402 Toray Supplies CFRP (carbon fiber composite materials) used for rocket satellite mounts, engine casing, satellite cladding, arms, etc. 
3524 Nitto Seimo Manufactures electrodynamic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium (0.15 mm in diameter, 700 m long). Tether is used to collect space debris.
4403 NOF Supplies solid auxiliary rocket propellants and decoupling pyrotechnics for H2A and H2B
6503 Mitsubishi Electric Oversees development of most large satellites in Japan. In charge of Kibo’s electric power system and Konotori’s electric module.
6674 GS Yuasa Has 35% global share of lithium-ion cells for use in satellites and rockets. Installed in the ISS starting December 2016.
6701 NEC Develops electrical and communications systems for satellite buses. With Mitsubishi Electric, holds 50% global share of solar-powered paddles.
7011 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Oversees development of H2A and H2B rockets and ISS refueling ship Konotori. Manufactures liquid-fuel engines and Kibo’s on-board lab.
7013 IHI IHI’s subsidiary has a monopoly on the supply of solid rockets and thrusters. Also provides extravehicular pallets and recovery capsules.
 Tokyo Stock Exchange (second section) 6709 Meisei Electric Develops monitoring and observatory cameras for rockets and satellites, X-ray spectrometers, and various observatory devices for microsatellites. 
7404  Showa Aircraft Industry Provides satellite cladding, modular structures, and panels made from proprietary honeycomb core substrate.
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