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Back No.
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transper_1pic.gif The Zeal of
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 vehicle’s technological proficiency. The H-IIA, which is entirely domestically made, has secured Japan’s position on the front lines of the aerospace industry, and the heart of this industry is located right here in Aichi Prefecture.
Japan’s 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, Japan’s rocket technology has made great strides.

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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.



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The H-IIA is an enormous vehicle. Its first stage alone has a length of 37 meters.
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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, Japan’s technology has reached the level of the world’s 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 vehicle.

NASDA, the National Space Development Agency of Japan, has played the lead role in the development of Japan’s 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 NASDA’s 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 NASDA’s 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 launch vehicle.”

Why was Nagoya chosen as the site of NASDA’s 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 Japan’s aerospace industry.



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The first-stage engine of the H-IIA, here almost completely assembled. This is a precision product on a huge scale.
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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 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 can’t rely on ordinary piping joints, no matter how precisely manufactured the parts are. If you did that, you’d 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 indispensable.

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)

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