Japan Eyes Lunar Landing
The key to Japan’s plans for the human portion of its space program centers on the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), an autonomous cargo carrier scheduled to make its first flight to the ISS in September on an H-IIB rocket.
The 16.5-ton spacecraft was designed to deliver six tons of pressurized and unpressurized cargo to the ISS, primarily for the Kibo laboratory module and station logistics. But Kuniaki Shiraki, executive director of the human spaceflight program at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said March 17 that JAXA is considering HTV upgrades as part of the agency’s 10-year plan now in development.
As a first step, Shiraki said, Japan would add the thermal protection systems needed to give the HTV a re-entry capability, filling in some of the “down-mass” capability that will be lost when the space shuttle fleet retires next year. JAXA engineers also are studying what it would take to human-rate HTV for the return, so it could act as a crew rescue vehicle. Beyond that, JAXA is considering adapting HTV technology to deliver cargo to the moon as one of Japan’s contributions to an international exploration effort there. During a press briefing here in connection with the ongoing STS-119 shuttle mission that delivered Wakata to the ISS, Shiraki said that would include a Japanese lunar lander.
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