The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency JAXA and ESA reviewed and confirmed their continued cooperation at the International Space Exploration Forum ISEF2 on 3 March in Tokyo, Japan. The agencies released a joint statement detailing their partnership and future collaboration.
Japan and Europe have a shared vision for space exploration and intend to work even more closely together on preparing exploration of the Moon. For example, both parties, together with the Canadian Space Agency, are investigating a human lunar demonstrator mission which could pave the way for humans to return to the Moon and return samples from the surface via a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.
The agencies will investigate novel techniques to allow landers to survive the long, dark and cold lunar night as well as demonstrating propulsion that could eventually use lunar resources to produce fuel without having it shipped from Earth.
The initial feasibility study of the demonstration mission, tentatively named Heracles, will end next year. If the study outcome is promising, the concept could be included in the next phase of ESA’s European Exploration Envelope Programme (E3P), to be decided at the Council at Ministerial Level in late 2019. Through the programme, Europe is exploring Low Earth Orbit, the Moon and Mars with a partnership of humans and robots.
ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, Dr David Parker said: “This growing partnership with Japan capitalises on each party’s area of expertise to develop innovative technologies for global exploration.”
Earth and farther afield
The statement included a commitment to providing data to help tackle global environmental issues as stipulated in the Paris climate agreement. JAXA will launch the GOSAT-2 satellite this year to collect greenhouse gas data. This will be shared and complement European missions, such as Copernicus Sentinel-5P.
Japan and ESA are already partners in the International Space Station, as well as the BepiColombo mission to Mercury that will launch this year. This mission consists of two science orbiters: the ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, which will be carried to the innermost planet of our Solar System by ESA’s Mercury Transfer Module. Together, these orbiters will study the planet’s interior, magnetic field, surface features and chemistry, to better understand how a planet so close to the Sun forms and evolves.