Founded: October 1, 2003
Headquarters: 4-6 Kandasurugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
President: Hiroshi Yamakawa
Budget (2018): $1.66 billion (¥183.1 billion)
Employees (2016): 1,545
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is the country’s national space and aerospace agency. It was formed in 2003 integrating a number of smaller independent organisations into a single dedicated agency. Since then, JAXA has managed to launch a handful of landmark mission belying its size and available funding.
Through the 1950s and 60s, the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), the Institue of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) were founded. Over the next 40 years, the three agencies focused on different aspects of Japan’s national aerospace research and development. NASDA developed and launched the country’s home-grown rockets and satellites. NAL focused on aviation research and ISAS pursued space and planetary research.
In October 2003, it was decided that the three agencies would be merged creating the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The agency was founded as an independent administrative institution and was managed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
In early 2015, JAXA was changed from an independent administrative institution to a National Research and Development Agency. In addition to the new status, the agency’s leadership was restructured in line with the change.
JAXA owns and operates several launch, monitoring, manufacturing, and research facilities throughout Japan.
JAXA field centres and associated facilities:
- Headquarters Office / Chofu Aerospace Center
- Tokyo Office
- Tsukuba Space Center
- Chofu Aerospace Center Aerodrome Branch
- Sagamihara Campus
- Tanegashima Space Center
- Uchinoura Space Center
- Kakuda Space Center
- Earth Observation Center
- Noshiro Rocket Testing Center
- Taiki Aerospace Research Field
- Usuda Deep Space Center
- Katsuura Tracking and Communications Station
- Masuda Tracking and Communications Station
- Okinawa Tracking and Communications Station
- Ogasawara Downrange Station
- Nagoya Flight
- Research Center
- Regional Satellite Applications Center for Disaster Management
- Kamisaibara Space Guard Center
- Bisei Space Guard Center
In addition to its facilities in Japan, JAXA maintains offices in France, Russia, Thailand, and in Washington D.C. and Houston in the United States.
Over less than two decades, JAXA’s accomplishments have belied its size and available funding. The agency is one of the few national space agency’s that operates their own rockets, launches interplanetary and deep space missions, and pushes the boundaries of aerospace technology.
Historic JAXA missions/programs:
- SELENE (also known as Kaguya) – The Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) was Japan’s second lunar orbiter (the first failing shortly after entering a lunar orbit). It was launched on 14 September 2007 and remained operational for a year and 9 months. The mission included the main orbiter and two smaller orbiters: Okina (a small communications relay satellite) and Ouna (science payload).
- Akatsuki – Launched on May 20, 2010, the Venus Climate Orbiter (nicknamed Akatsuki) was Japan’s first planetary exploration mission. The satellite should have entered an orbit around Venus on 6 December. However, an error forced it to orbit the Sun for five years before entering an alternative elliptical Venusian orbit on December 7, 2015.
- Hayabusa2 – A sample return mission to the primordial asteroid Ryugu (formally 1999JU3). The mission included the deployment of four small rovers and one impactor to the surface of the asteroid. Samples collected by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft will be returned to Earth in December 2020.
- First Japanese ISS Commander – In 2014, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata became the first Japanese Commander of the International Space Station for ISS Expedition 39.
Although not as accomplished as the likes of NASA and Roscosmos, JAXA had an ambitious future planned. In addition to plans to establish a crewed lunar outpost, the agency plans to launch a space-based solar power prototype as early as 2020.