JAXA giving NASA a run for the money on a shoe-string budget

JAXA’s mission are far more ambitious than its budget would suggest.

The agency has no manned missions and operated on 339 billion yen (four billion dollars) this fiscal year — less than one-tenth of the NASA budget, and less than half the annual cost of Europe’s space programme.

Space officials are now fighting back against any further government belt tightening as they plan a follow-up probe to Hayabusa in 2014, which would explore an asteroid named 1999JU3.

JAXA says it hopes its probe would find "organic or hydrated materials" on the asteroid, and to find out whether "there is any relation to life on Earth".

The science and technology minister, Yoshiaki Takagi, last month vowed that "we will strive to secure the budget so that we can offer maximum support" for the Hayabusa-2 project.

His ministry has requested a 100-fold boost to the research budget for Hayabusa-2 to some three billion yen next year.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded sympathetic when he said last month that Japan "must be committed" to space projects.

In future the space agency may take on an even more ambitious task.

An expert panel advising the minister for space development has called for sending a wheeled robot to the Moon in five years — having first considered a two-legged humanoid, which was rejected because of the Moon’s bumpy surface.

It envisions building the first lunar base by 2020, which could be staffed by advanced robots, as a key stepping stone for Japan’s space exploration, a field where Asian competition is heating up.

"It is extremely important to probe the Moon… as we now see the dawn of ‘the Age of Great Voyages’ in the solar system," the panel said, pointing out that "China, India and other countries are aiming to probe the Moon."

The government’s Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy believes a successful space programme does much to lift Japan’s profile on Earth.

"Our country’s space technology, its achievements and human resources are truly diplomatic resources that would boost our influence and position in the international community," it said in a policy report.

"We will promote them as a source of our soft power."

via Japan’s low-cost space programme pushes the limits.


Japan creates 6-month medical visa for foreigners

The Japanese government instituted a new visa Friday to enable foreign visitors to stay in Japan for a maximum of six months to receive health care treatment starting in January.

The medical stay visa is designed as an economic stimulus measure to attract affluent visitors from China and other parts of Asia, following calls for the government to revamp the visa system as countries such as Thailand, Singapore, India and South Korea step up medical tourism.

"Based on Japan’s new growth strategy adopted in June, we will launch a new visa to promote visits to our country by foreign patients," Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told a news conference.

"We hope the new visa will enable as many people as possible to receive advanced medical services to get healthy or undergo checkups in Japan," the minister said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said in a press conference that barriers must be lowered as Japan could be left behind in high- level medical services.

So far, visitors seeking health care in Japan have acquired visas categorized as those for a short-term stay, special purposes or visiting relatives, which allowed them to stay up to 180 days.

Read the rest of the story: Japan creates 6-month medical visa for foreigners.


Magnetically Levitated Train Line Route Approved – Tokyo to Osaka

A government panel approved a plan Wednesday to build a magnetically levitated train line over the shortest proposed Tokyo-Osaka route.

The panel at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry gave the green light to a midterm report that states Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) is responsible for constructing and operating the route on a virtual straight line through the Southern Alps.

Because it has a more favorable cost-benefit ratio, the panel favors that route over other proposals that would divert the line north of the mountain range.

The travel time between Tokyo and Osaka under the plan is expected to be 67 minutes at the shortest.

The railway, known as JR Tokai, said it plans to start construction in fiscal 2014, complete the line between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027 and finish the full line reaching Osaka in 2045.

Read the rest of the story: Most direct line for maglev gets panel OK.


What happened to Japan’s Akatsuki Venus probe?

A Japanese probe that failed to enter orbit around Venus Monday night (Dec. 6) may have been damaged by an impacting object, according to news reports.

Alternately, a problem with the spacecraft’s engine nozzle could also be to blame for the probe’s wayward journey.

The Akatsuki spacecraft, whose name means "dawn" in Japanese, is currently speeding away from Venus after failing to insert into the hellishly hot planet’s orbit. But the probe will come close enough to make another attempt in late 2016 or early 2017, and officials with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said they hope to try again.

"While we set up a new investigation team to study the cause and countermeasures, we will also review the Venus orbit injection plan again to take the next opportunity in six years when the Akatsuki flies closest to Venus," JAXA officials said in a statement.

Engines conked out

After more than six months of interplanetary travel, the $300 million Akatsuki spacecraftgot to within 342 miles (550 kilometers) of Venus Monday night. At 6:49 p.m. EST (2349 GMT), the probe began firing its thrusters in an orbital-insertion burn, which should have slowed the craft enough to let Venus’ gravity snag it.

After initiation of the burn, a communications blackout — caused when Akatsuki swung behind Venus — grew from the expected 22 minutes to more than 1 1/2 hours, suggesting that something had gone awry.

While JAXA scientists managed to re-establish contact with the probe, they announced Dec. 8 that Akatsuki had failed to enter Venus orbit. JAXA officials said that the thrusters failed to fire for long enough, burning for only two to three minutes instead of the expected 12, Japan’s English-languageMainichi Daily News newspaper reported.

Akatsuki went into safe mode — a sort of standby state that allows craft to weather various technical glitches — which shut down the engines, according to an article in the journal Nature. JAXA officials have determined that Akatsuki started spinning before going into safe mode, suggesting the probe may have been hit by some object or had a problem with its engine nozzle, Nature reports.

Akatsuki doesn’t have enough fuel to slam on the brakes and reverse course now, so it will continue on its long, looping path around the sun. It should come close enough to Venus to try another orbital-insertion burn in December 2016 or January 2017, JAXA officials said.

The probe should be able to survive until then, scientists said. Akatsuki was designed to operate for at least two years in Venus orbit, but its batteries can last for longer than that, and the spacecraft still has most of its fuel left. But JAXA officials are concerned that it could sustain heat or radiation damage on its trip around the sun, the Mainichi Daily News reported.

Akatsuki was the second robotic Japanese probe ever sent to visit another planet. Japan’s first planetary mission, the Nozomi orbiter sent to Mars, also failed to enter orbit in late 2003.

Read the rest of the story: Did something just smack into Japan’s Akatsuki Venus probe?.

Japan Venus Probe

Japan’s Akatsuki probe reached Venus, preparing to orbit

A Japanese probe reached Venus on Tuesday and prepared to enter orbit on a two-year mission that would mark a major milestone for Japan’s space program and could shed light on the climate of Earth’s mysterious neighbor.

The probe, called Akatsuki, which means "dawn," would be the first Japan has ever placed into orbit around another planet and comes after the country recently brought a probe back from a trip to an asteroid.

Other space programs, including the Americans’ and the Europeans’, have successfully launched missions to orbit other planets.

Scientists said they briefly lost contact with the probe early Tuesday. They encountered new communication problems later in the day and were not able to confirm if it was successful.

Agency spokesman Tsutomu Yoshioka said it would take several more hours than expected to determine the probe’s status.

Japan has been overshadowed in recent years by the big strides of China, which has put astronauts in space twice since 2003 and was the third country to send a human into orbit after Russia and the United States,

However, Japan has long been one of the world’s leading space-faring nations. It was the first Asian country to put a satellite in orbit around the Earth — in 1970 — and has developed a highly reliable booster rocket in its H-2 series.

Read the rest of the story:Japan probe reaches Venus, prepares to enter orbit.


Nissan rolls out Leaf electric car in Japan

Nissan showed off its Leaf electric car Friday, trumpeting its zero-emission technology and practicality with video of the hatchback zipping through snow and water.

The car, among the world’s first mass-market electric vehicles, is already sold out until March 2011 because of limited production capacity.

There have been 6,000 orders in Japan and 20,000 in the US. It arrives in Europe next year.

"This day has finally arrived,” a grinning Nissan Motor Co. Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga said, before posing for photographs with Japanese customers who had placed orders for the Leaf. "The curtains are about to rise for a new era in the auto industry.”

Shiga said the Leaf will sell in Japan for 3.76 million yen ($45,000) but with a 780,000 yen ($9,000) government green incentive the price will come down to 2.98 million yen ($35,000).

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price in the US is $33,600.

Read the rest of the story: Nissan rolls out Leaf electric car in Japan.


Doctors Anywhere – The Right Tech Makes the Right to Equal Medical Care, Any Time, Any Place a Reality

In regions with a number of rural areas like the Tohoku district, or areas with a large number of isolated islands, crumbling hospital systems due to a lack of doctors is becoming a major issue. The existence of problems with crumbling community healthcare and the uneven distribution of doctors is already widely known by the public, however a formal statistical study on the national level had not been conducted until recently. These issues have become a significant topic of discussion nationwide, and there is speculation that the lack of a formal statistical survey up to this point could have been due to major problems in government. On September 29th, 2010, the long-awaited results of the study conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare were presented. These statistics revealed for the first time formally that the unevenness in the allocation of medical resources in Japan is considerable, and that such disparities are becoming a serious problem.

Tohoku University has developed a system capable of transmitting high-definition images and biological information in a mobile environment, with a consortium being set up to research ways for such technology to be used ubiquitously in health services in sparsely populated areas, medical house calls, population screenings, and on-site care in emergency and disaster situations. After gaining approval from the Medical Ethics Committee of Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, clinical testing of the "Electronic Doctor’s Bag," used to facilitate medical care administered in isolated locations, began October 19th in the "Umuyasumyasu-n health clinic" on the isolated island of Miyakojima, in the Okinawa prefecture.

The "Electronic Doctor’s Bag" is a telemedicine system which includes a communication subsystem that allows it to transmit medical information from anywhere, at any time. Since a nurse carrying the "Electronic Doctor’s Bag" can send a patient’s biological information and high-definition images to a doctor at a hospital or clinic in real-time online, they can travel to the home of a patient in place of a doctor, and are able to create an environment similar to that found in face-to-face treatment.

The Electronic Doctor’s Bag consortium consists of Tohoku University, Sony Co., Fukuda Denshi Co., Ltd., OMRON HEALTHCARE Co., Ltd., HONDA ELECTRONICS Co., Ltd., WILLCOM, Inc., Net One Systems Co., Ltd., and Three Links Co., Ltd., and in the 2009 fiscal year, the first prototype was utilized in in-home medical practice trials in Sendai. In the 2010 fiscal year, an improved second prototype was completed and demonstration experiments began on a representative outer island in Okinawa.

In recent years, the inflation of medical costs due to an increase in the elderly population of Japan has become a problem, particularly in the Tohoku area where a lack of doctors has put the existence of numerous central hospitals in danger. As such, the utilization of information and communications technology (IT) in medical services has been attracting some attention as an effective solution to these problems.

Based on these types of circumstances, the Institute of Development, Aging and Cancer at Tohoku University is making efforts in research toward the implementation of remote medical care for use in remote locations and on isolated islands. Some of the efforts promoted include the "Greater Sendai Area Knowledge Cluster Initiative (Second Stage)," (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), the "Regional Innovation Research Center" (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and "Development and Research of High-level Service and Medical Information Transmission Systems for Ambulances" (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications). The Electronic Doctor’s Bag cannot be used with a fixed internet connection, however it is characterized by the fact that it can transmit from anywhere mobile communication is possible, specifically remote locations, isolated islands, ambulances, and disaster sites, making it suitable for a wide variety of uses. Of these, the geographical conditions in isolated island environments result in a number of difficult situations for doctors on medical visits, and the need for the Electronic Doctor’s Bag is even greater. The aim of proving tests for the Electronic Doctor’s Bag is to work not only with simulated patients, but actual home-bound patients with the goal of revealing its effectiveness and problem areas.

via Science Links Japan (Gateway to Japanese Sci-Tech Info) – The Right to Equal Medical Care, Any Time, Any Place.


Japan developing cheap satellites for emerging markets

Japan is developing a low-cost surveillance satellite to aid disaster relief and other purposes as it looks to expand its reach into emerging markets, government and corporate officials said Friday.

Japan’s trade ministry is collaborating with NEC Corp. and other companies to develop by 2012 a small satellite costing a fifth of current prices for conventional monitoring satellites, trade ministry official Shuichi Kato said.

NEC will contribute technology it developed for the Hayabusa asteroid probe programme, whose success in being the first to collect asteroid particles during a seven-year odyssey has captured the imagination of Japan’s public.

Kato said the satellite would be ready for launch in 2012 and sales would be aimed at emerging countries such as Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand as well as Dubai and Kazakhstan.

The government is also talking to Vietnam about providing the satellite as part of official development aid, he said.

The ministry estimates that the satellite system would cost about 10 billion yen (120 million dollars), about one fifth of existing satellite systems developed by European and American groups, he said.

Read the rest of the story:Japan to develop cheap satellite for emerging markets.


Development of HRP-4, Working Humanoid Robots

Kawada Industries, Inc. (Kawada Industries; President: Tadahiro Kawada), a subsidiary of Kawada Technologies, Inc. (President: Tadahiro Kawada), has developed HRP-4, a new research and development platform for working humanoid robots, in collaboration with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST; President: Tamotsu Nomakuchi). In this joint project, Kawada Industries developed the humanoid robot hardware, while Fumio Kanehiro (Senior Research Scientist), Humanoid Research Group (Leader: Kazuhiro Yokoi), the Intelligent Systems Research Institute of AIST and other members developed the motion control software.

The high-density implementation technology used for HRP-4C, the cybernetic human developed by AIST, is applied to HRP-4. HRP-4 has a total of 34 degrees of freedom, including 7 degrees of freedom for each arm to facilitate object handling and has a slim, lightweight body with a height of 151 cm and weight of 39 kg. Furthermore, the HRP-4 control system adopts a software platform OpenRTM-aist and the Linux kernel with the RT-Preempt patch. Therefore, many domestic and international software assets for robot systems, including OpenHRP3, an open-source robot simulator, can be utilized. HRP-4 is expected to accelerate the research and development of next-generation robot systems necessary for the future robot industry, such as human-cooperative robots capable of operating under various environments.

HRP-4 was exhibited at the Annual Conference of the Robotics Society of Japan held at Nagoya Institute of Technology from September 22 to 24, 2010.

Read the rest of the story: Development of HRP-4, a Research and Development Platform for Working Humanoid Robots.


Samsung unveils Flexible WVGA OLED Panel

Samsung Mobile Display Co Ltd (SMD) developed a 4.5-inch OLED panel that can be bent with a curvature radius of 10mm and exhibited it at FPD International 2010/Green Device 2010.

The most distinctive feature of the panel is its pixel count of 800 x 480 (WVGA), which is equivalent to that of a panel used for existing smart phones and mobile phones. SMD’s existing OLED panel has a size of 6.5 inches and a pixel count of 480 x 272 (See related article).

The new display is 240μm thick. Low-temperature polysilicon TFTs were formed on a polyimide substrate. The structure of its organic EL element is the top-emission type, which extracts light in the direction opposite to the TFT substrate.

via [FPDI/GD] Samsung Exhibits Flexible WVGA OLED Panel.