Space agencies come together

BepiColombo approaching Mercury

BepiColombo approaching Mercury

  • On 14 June, President Hiroshi Yamakawa of JAXA was welcomed at the 282nd meeting of the ESA Council - the Agency’s governing body - held at ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

    For decades, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, have worked in close collaboration to better understand our Universe.

    From Earth observation missions to spacecraft exploring Martian moons, Mercury or distant asteroids, ESA and JAXA continue to show how international cooperation makes space exploration more effective and ultimately more successful.

    Decades of cooperation

    On his first visit to ESA mission control, President Yamakawa delivered a presentation highlighting 40 years of cooperation between ESA and JAXA, most recently illustrated by the launch of BepiColombo, the joint ESA-JAXA mission currently en route to Mercury.

    "We are thrilled to welcome President Yamakawa into the heart of Europe’s mission control centre," said Rolf Densing, ESA’s Director of Operations.

    "Our agencies have achieved a great deal together so far, and we are looking forward to many more shared adventures in future."

    Eyes on Earth

    The European and Japanese space agencies also recognise the huge importance of space missions to deliver better understanding of our changing planet by gathering data crucial for Earth science and for tackling climate change.

    The joint ESA-JAXA EarthCARE satellite will include four cutting-edge sensors, including the first Doppler radar in space, the Cloud Profiling Radar, provided by JAXA. As well as providing this critical instrument, JAXA will be responsible for a portion of the science data processing and distribution, ensuring the information can be used by scientists worldwide.

    Similarly, ESA is distributing data from JAXA’s GOSAT-1 and -2 satellites across Europe, both providing critical new information on greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

    A phenomenal agreement

    During the ESA Council meeting in Darmstadt, ESA Director General Jan Wörner and President Yamakawa signed an agreement on XRISM - the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission - which will study extremely energetic phenomena in the Universe.

    XRISM will be launched in the early 2020s from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, with hardware components and support for science management and planning provided by ESA. In return, ESA will be granted observation time, to be allocated to scientists affiliated to institutions in ESA Member States.

    Delving into deep space

    As well as XRISM, ESA and JAXA are working on a number of missions taking us from our home planet out into deep space, including the JAXA-led Martian Moons eXploration mission and the ESA-led missions JUICE , studying Jupiter’s icy moons, and SPICA , ESA’s Space Infrared Telescope for Cosmology and Astrophysics.

    On the ground, ESA and JAXA are planning a feasibility study for a much-needed new antenna, which would increase capacity to communicate with future missions.

    Deep-space communication is vital to the success of all missions. ESA ground stations supported JAXA’s Hayabusa-2 spacecraft, which arrived at asteroid Ryugu last year.

    Protecting our planet

    The two agency leaders also recognised the importance of space safety activities to protect people, the planet and global space infrastructure from hazards such as near-Earth asteroids, space weather and space debris, as well as cybersecurity threats originating on Earth.

    "While competition is undeniably a driver, cooperation can be a powerful enabler. In the cooperation with JAXA, the European Space Agency demonstrates its expertise in international partnership," concludes Jan Wörner, ESA Director General.

    "Together, we travel further, explore deeper and understand the Universe and ourselves better."

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