While the U.S. and China are pouring billions in their efforts to be the first to set foot on Mars, Japan’s lower-profile missions such as those to Mercury or Venus could turn it into an undisputed winner of the space race.
Japan in eyeing other exotic destinations at infinitesimal costs. For instance, the country put a $290-million robotic explorer on Venus’ orbit which gathers precious data on the planet’s atmosphere.
What’s more, the Japanese are collaborating with the Europeans for an endeavor to measure Mercury’s magnetic field. In the meantime, another robotic probe is headed to an asteroid in a bid to look for water.
And Japan managed to deploy these missions with a budget less than 10th the size of the U.S. space agency. Nevertheless, the Japanese space agency, JAXA, focuses more on mission with practical applications than spectacular space trips.
For instance, JAXA placed a fleet of satellites above Earth which monitor the activity beneath the planet’s crust. The data is next used to predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Meanwhile, JAXA astronauts are lending a hand to a Tokyo-based drug maker to find a cure for cancer.
JAXA’s President Naoki Okumura acknowledged there is an ongoing ‘space race’ with Mars as the main attraction. Okumura added his agency would rather stay focused on “small-scale experiments” that have immediate applications on Earth.
Japan’s Space Venture
Japan has various partnerships with NASA as its astronauts used American space shuttles and live along U.S. astronauts on the International Space Station. However, the Land of the Rising Sun does not plan to set its foot on Mars yet.
NASA is working around the clock to send a human crew to the Red Planet by 2030. China wants to send a robotic probe by 2020 and send astronauts later. In the meantime, the private spaceflight company SpaceX eyes a Mars mission for next decade.
Japan, on the other hand, while it collaborates with other space agencies, it is individually working on improving water recycling systems on space shuttles. This is a key factors for long-distance space travel.
Working on a Tight Budget
Experts noted the Japanese are doing a lot with a little. JAXA’s budget is slightly over $1.62 billion for this fiscal year. By contrast, NASA’s budget is a whopping $19 billion.
What’s more, the Asian country’s investments in space exploration paid 307 billion yen in dividends to the private sector. Japan now wants to raise that sum to 500 billion yen over the next ten years.
Okumura, 71, who is a former corporate executive, noted space industry is not the same. He acknowledged it is very hard to get a big budget so the agency seeks workarounds and collaborations.
NEC Corp. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp., are the country’s primary manufacturers of satellite. NEC designed the Kaguya probe which reached the moon’s orbit and Hayabusa vessels that analyze asteroids.
Six years ago, Hayabusa 1 was the first to return alien material samples after the Apollo missions. Japanese researchers studied the samples to better understand the influence of solar winds on an ancient asteroid.
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