Japan Data

Japan’s Space Program


The history of Japanese space exploration stretches from the 1955 launch of the tiny Pencil Rocket to the recent achievements of the Hayabusa2 asteroid probe.

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step outside of planet Earth when US Apollo 11 landed on the moon. That space race was driven by the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two Cold War superpowers. Today, in contrast, international cooperation and private-sector support has become indispensable to the enormous funding needed for space exploration.

Japan lagged far behind the Americans and Soviets in launching its first artificial satellite and sending its first astronaut into space, but in recent years the country has become a world leader in the field of asteroid exploration through its Hayabusa and Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

Year Event
1955 Experimental launch of the ultra-compact “Pencil Rocket” developed at the Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo by a team led by Itokawa Hideo.
1957 Soviet Union successfully launches Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite.
1961 (April) Soviet Union launches Vostok 1 carrying the Soviet cosmonaut Lieutenant Yuri Gagarin—the first person to journey into outer space.
(May) The United States successfully launches the manned spacecraft Mercury-Redstone 3.
1962 Kagoshima Space Center (present-day Uchinoura Space Center) established.
1969 (July 16) Successful launch of US spacecraft Apollo 11 carrying three astronauts.
(July 20) Captain Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on the surface of the moon.
1969 (October) Establishment of the National Space Development Agency (the predecessor of JAXA) and the opening of the Tanegashima Space Center.
1970 The University of Tokyo’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science launches Japan’s first artificial satellite Ohsumi, making Japan the fourth country in the world to succeed in this endeavor (13 years behind the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1).
1975 National Space Development Agency begins launches of the N-I rocket.
1977 Japan successfully launches the Kiku-2, its first geostationary satellite.
1981 Launches begin of the improved N-II rocket, capable of carrying large satellites.
1981 First launch of the Space Shuttle by the United States.
1986 Launches begin of the domestically produced two-stage H-I rocket.
1990 Akiyama Toyohiro, a journalist of the TV station TBS, becomes the first Japanese to take part in a space flight when he travels aboard a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft to the Mir space station, where he stays for six days (roughly 19 years after the first manned flights of the Soviet Union and United States).
1992 Astronaut Mōri Mamoru takes part in a Space Shuttle flight.
1994 Launch of the H-II rocket, the first domestically produced rocket to have a first stage, second stage, and an induction-control system.
1994 The astronaut Mukai Chiaki travels on the Space Shuttle and becomes the first female Asian in space.
1997 Launches begin of the world’s largest solid-propellant rocket, the M-V.
2001 Launch of the H-IIA (an improved version of the H-II), achieving a world-class performance compared to both liquid and solid-fuel rockets.
2003 Launch of the asteroid explorer Hayabusa. 
2003 Formation of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as an independent administration agency through the merger of three organizations: the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, the National Aerospace Laboratory, and the National Space Development Agency of Japan.
2009 Operations of Japan’s experiment module Kibō begin on the International Space Station.
2009 Successful launch of an unmanned cargo transporter (named Kōnotori in 2010) to resupply the International Space Station; all seven cargo ships have safely completed their journey to the station.
2010 Hayabusa returns successfully to Earth after collecting samples from the asteroid Itokawa.
2014 Launch of the Hayabusa2 asteroid explorer.
2019 (February) First landing of Hayabusa2 on the asteroid Ryūgū.
(April) An artificial crater for collecting samples is successfully made on the surface of Ryūgū.
(July) Hayabusa2 lands for the second time on Ryūgū, and succeeds in gathering asteroid samples.
2020 Hayabusa2 scheduled to return to Earth around the end of the year.

Created by Nippon.com based on information from the Cabinet Office, JAXA, and other sources.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: Hayabusa2 touching down on the asteroid Ryūgū. © JAXA.)

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