We’re currently in the middle of another space race, this time between China and the United States, with both countries investing heavily in developing technologies to help them accomplish the major feat of putting humans on the surface of Mars. While two of the world’s super powers have their attentions focused on the red planet, Japan is quietly launching missions into space that over the long-term could prove far more valuable for humanity.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is funded to the tune of $1.62 billion per year, a figure just one-tenth that of NASA’s $19.3 billion annual budget. Nevertheless, the organization has still managed to embark on some very interesting projects, including currently having a probe orbiting Venus and collecting data about its thick, scorching atmosphere in the hope of uncovering answers about the planet’s past, and the Earth’s potential future.
In addition, Japan has plans to partner with European space programs to measure Mercury’s electromagnetic field and waves, while JAXA has already launched a mission to an 870 meter wide asteroid called 1999 JU3 in order to look for signs of water.
In fact, while China and the United States are preoccupied with conquering and colonizing planets, Japan seems more focused on making discoveries in space that can lead to scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements back here on Earth. For example, JAXA is currently using its satellites to help predict and provide early warnings for volcanic eruptions and major earthquakes, while the organization is also involved in a number of other disparate projects, including partnering with a Toxyo drug company to create peptides in zero gravity which can then be used as a base to develop a cure for cancer.
Although the country has gone on record as saying that it does not intend to put a Japanese astronaut on the surface of Mars, it has nonetheless expressed its willingness to assist the US with its efforts to do so. After all, the commercial space industry is an enormously lucrative enterprise whose revenues in 2015 totalled $121 billion. Japan’s efforts are paying off, too, with the country’s space program helping to grow private industry, and last year revenues related to its space program totaled more than $2.6 billion, with JAXA hoping to increase that figure to $4.24 billion within the next 10 years.
Furthermore, collaborating with Japanese companies, the agency is making huge strides in the development of spacecraft that can travel deeper into space. One landmark craft developed by the Japanese space program is Akatsuki, a 500-kilogram probe powered by huge solar panels which after some tweaking has been transmitting infrared images of Venus back to Earth since December 2015.
By partnering with companies like NEC and Mitsubishi Electric, Japan is managing to make the study and exploration of space a sustainable endeavor. The agency further believes that it has an obligation to help grow the economy of the entire country, while making discoveries that can save lives. Although Japan may not be the first country to set foot on a distant planet, its space program may ultimately prove to have a bigger impact on humanity, both within its own borders and around the globe.