Thursday, September 13, 2007

Princess of the Moon

The largest Moon spacecraft since Apollo has successfully launched atop an H-2A booster. The mission consists of a large orbiter and two micro-satellites. Kaguya, Princess of the Moon, is the oldest Japanese folk narrative. From ancient times to Sailor Moon, our satellite has been part of the Japanese consciousness. Like Apollo, Kaguya will return photos of Earth rising in Space.

In 1970 Japan was the third country to independently launch a satellite. Since then the Japanese Space programme languished. Two failures of the H-2 booster in the 1990's set them back further. (When China suffered a launch failure in 1996, they somehow received American help to build better missiles.) In 2003 the Space agency was re-organised as JAXA, with ambitious plans for the Moon. We should remember that Japan is still the world's second-largest economy and will be until about 2020.

China has also announced a lunar orbiter for this year, though it has not successfully launched. At an IAU meeting in Bali Chinese scientists told me they were planning a lunar landing this year. The lander has been delayed until at least 2010, and Japan may beat them to it. China plans a human EVA in '008, but they lack a Neutral Buoyancy Facility for training. Asia is witnessing a new Space Race.

Google has announced a 30 million US prize to land a lunar rover by 2012. They stipulate beaming back 1 GB of data. I will humbly suggest that the International Lunar Observatory design atop a Dniepr booster could easily be modified for a rover. The Sojourner Mars rover is an excellent starting point. As with SpaceShip One, the biggest advantage is having deep pockets. Best wishes to Japan, China and Google because a little competition is good.

The Shanghai World Financial Centre, which was financed by a Japanese tycoon, has just topped out at 1,614 feet. Mainland China's tallest building has not quite matched the 1,667-foot Taipei 101 across the strait. Both of them have been surpassed by the Burj Dubai (below) which is still rising. New York's Freedom Tower will be 1,776 feet if they ever get around to building it.

At one time any American would proudly point to the Empire State building as the world's tallest. Even King Kong could find it! Today most Americans could not tell you where the tallest building stands. Even fewer could tell that Chongqing (Chungking) with 32 million inhabitants is the world's largest city. In a race for Space or a race for ideas, one wonders if the West even cares anymore. The many private Space companies give hope that the pioneer spirit survives.

More Space news at the Carnival of Space!



Blogger nige said...

It will be very interesting to see whether Japan or China get to the moon first. It is strange that China still doesn't have a neutral bouyancy facility. Surely it is just a case of making a deep swimming pool?

3:55 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

It is very interesting, looks like Japan wins the round for orbiting probe. While Japan has a big NBF, my sources say that China has none. Plenty of wealthy Chinese now have swimming pools!

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice Article.

9:09 AM  

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