the Space Industry Artisan
The first H-IIA launch vehicle blasted off in
2001, and four more have since followed in succession.
All have been successful flights, demonstrating
the launch vehicles technological proficiency.
The H-IIA, which is entirely domestically made,
has secured Japans position on the front
lines of the aerospace industry, and the heart
of this industry is located right here in Aichi
Japans space development program got going
in earnest in 1975 with the liftoff of the N-1launch
vehicle. Compared with what the United States
and the Soviet Union were putting into space in
those days, this was hardly an impressive vehicle.
It was only able to place a small, experimental
satellite weighing 82.5 kilograms in an orbit
no higher than 1,000 kilometers. Over the ensuing
three decades, however, Japans rocket technology
has made great strides.
The use of liquid hydrogen
as a fuel, a distinguishing feature of the
H-IIA, necessitates a complex fueling apparatus.
Japan has developed some of the best liquid
hydrogen technology in the world.
The H-IIA is an enormous
vehicle. Its first stage alone has
a length of 37 meters.
The H-IIA, a model that is essentially
ready for line production, can place a
satellite weighing from 4 to 6 tons in
a geostationary transfer orbit reaching
an altitude of 36,000 kilometers. If the
satellite only needs to be in a low earth
orbit, it can weigh up to 10 tons. In
the sphere of rocket engines fueled with
liquid hydrogen, Japans technology
has reached the level of the worlds
best. Evidence for this can be seen in
the fact that the United States, the grandfather
of aerospace development, has shown interest
in procuring the engines Japan has developed
for the second stage of its H-II launch
NASDA, the National Space Development
Agency of Japan, has played the lead role
in the development of Japans space
program. (In October this year NASDA was
reborn as JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration
Agency, through a merger with the Institute
of Space and Astronautical Science and
the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan.)
Under NASDAs direction, development
work involving rockets, satellites, and
space stations has made good progress.
When it comes to production work, however,
the important players are aerospace equipment
manufacturers located mainly in the Chubu
region centered around Aichi Prefecture.
Their supervisor is NASDAs Nagoya
Office, which investigates and evaluates
the designing, manufacturing, and testing
of everything from parts and materials
to complete systems, paying special attention
to the reliability and quality of all
the space equipment involved.
Akihiro Eguchi, the director of the Nagoya
Office, speaks of the important role it
plays: Although the H-IIA is highly
reliable and as complete as it can be,
we are constantly trying to improve everything
down to the smallest part. In order to
do this, we feed the enormous volume of
data derived from launches back to the
places of production so that they can
do an even better job on each succeeding
Why was Nagoya chosen as the site of NASDAs
one and only office serving as the channel
between NASDA and private-sector companies?
The answer is quite simple. Nagoya is
centrally located within the Chubu region,
the heart of Japans aerospace industry.
The Tobishima Plant of Nagoya Aerospace
Systems Works, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries,
Ltd., is one of the main builders of the
H-IIA. Apart from making the launch vehicles
body, fuel tanks, and other key components,
it handles the final outfitting and assembly
of parts shipped in from other plants. The
completed H-IIA is then placed in a special
container and shipped to the launch site
of Tanegashima Space Center.
The first-stage engine
of the H-IIA, here almost completely
assembled. This is a precision product
on a huge scale.
The interior of this huge plant, which is
big enough to accommodate two 53-meter H-IIA
launch vehicles, is surprisingly silent
compared with the ruckus made by the machine
tools in the neighboring aircraft plant.
In fact, you can even hear the exchanges
of conversation among the highly trained
workers, who number about 40, as they go
about their tasks.
Yoshio Murata, the leader of the workforce,
comments on the difficulty of building a
launch vehicle: Our job is not just
one of assembling parts. It is more like
clearing a series of hurdles, each of which
requires repeated testing of the performance
of the parts. Unlike planes, which are used
over and over again, launch vehicles are
one-shot affairs. Not even the tiniest scratch
or the least bit of dirt can be tolerated.
On watching the launch vehicle being built,
one cannot help finding that even though
it is a product embodying the latest in
high technology, manual labor comes into
play in practically all the production processes.
The liquid hydrogen that goes into
the H-IIA needs to have a temperature of
minus 253 degrees Celsius, while the liquid
oxygen has to be cooled to minus 183 degrees,
Murata notes. With liquids that cold,
you cant rely on ordinary piping joints,
no matter how precisely manufactured the
parts are. If you did that, youd be
bound to get a little leakage. In a sense,
this is a world where everything depends
on the skills of the artisan.
Aichi is a prefecture where automaking and
other manufacturing industries flourish,
and it has accumulated a sophisticated assortment
of technologies and capital equipment. But
while they constitute essential props to
the leading edge of the space industry,
we must not let them cause us to overlook
the zeal of the workers, which is equally
Proudly sewn on the left shoulders of the
workers uniforms at the Tobishima
Plant is a patch bearing the emblem V5.
It stands for the five successive successful
launches of the H-IIA launch vehicle starting
with the first one in 2001.
(Takashi Sasaki; photos by Junichi Wajda)