Brief History

In April, 1955, the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo, conducted an experiment to launch the 23 cm-long Pencil rocket. This was Japan's first step toward the completion of the indigenous sounding rocket upon participating in the IGY (International Geophysical Year) activities from 1957 to 1958. It also marked the start of Japan's space activities and the origin of the present Institute of Space and Astronautical Science.

Japan's participation in the IGY events ended in success by carrying out observations of the upper atmosphere, cosmic rays, and others. Those observations were possible by the development of K-6 type rockets, which could reach as high as 60 km in altitude, with the use of solid propellant. This success was followed by further improvement of the rocket performance through the development of K-8 type and others, which opened the way toward the era of space observation by the 1960s with the use of sounding rockets. In 1962, Kagoshima Space Center was established and opened as a full-scale launch site.

Meanwhile, following recommendations by the Science Council of Japan, the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, University of Tokyo, the predecessor of the present ISAS, was established in 1964 to further promote space science in Japan by following the successful path of the Institute of Industrial Science. Since then, the ISAS, as an inter-university joint research facility, has become a core organization of Japan's space activities along with the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), which was established in 1969 to take charge of applicational programs, under the Space Activities Commission (SAC), established in 1968.

At the same time, as a natural consequence of the development of technologies for sounding rockets, demand arose to carry out scientific observations with the use of satellites. The project to develop the M-4S rocket for launching scientific observation satellites was approved in 1966 under such circumstances. After trial and error, the L-4S rocket, the development of which was planned to verify the orbit injection method of the solid four-stage M-series rockets, finally succeeded in launching Japan's first satellite, OHSUMI, on February 11, 1970.

Based on the success of this L-4S rocket, the M-4S rocket completed its virgin flight in February, 1971. In September of the same year, the first scientific satellite, SHINSEI, was launched and carried out observations of solar radio emissions, cosmic rays, and the ionosphere, marking the beginning of the era of scientific satellites in Japan. Since then, steady progress has been made in the improvement of the M series rockets while launching almost one scientific satellite per year. Against such background, Japan was able to have a number of successful results in the field of scientific observation. The X-ray astronomy satellite, HAKUCHO, is one example.

As activity in the field of scientific observation in space increased rapidly, the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, University of Tokyo, was reorganized in 1981 to become the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) under the direct control of the Ministry of Education. Through the reorganization, activities were further strengthened, reflecting the demands by the researchers of space science throughout the entire country. Meanwhile, NASDA succeeded in launching the Engineering Testing Satellite, KIKU, in 1975 by its N-I rocket, which was developed through the transfer of technologies used for the US Delta-Thor rockets.

The year 1985 turned out to be a memorable one for the reborn ISAS. In January, the first M-3SII rocket, still under development at the time, successfully launched the SAKIGAKE probe to Halley's comet. Together with the SUISEI, which was launched in August of the same year, SAKIGAKE succeeded in nearby observation of the comet as part of the "Halley Armada" of spacecraft from Japan, the US, Europe, and the Soviet Union. The newly constructed 64 m antenna demonstrated its capability to the full. With the technologies for orbit planning, orbit determination, and in-orbit operation established, Japan acquired the capability for interplanetary navigation. The occasion of the Halley mission led to the establishment of the IACG (Inter-Agency Consultative Group), which is still extremely effective in functioning as a cooperative organization among Japan, the US, Europe, and Russia.

Since then, ISAS has scored a series of successes with its projects, such as: the X-ray astronomy satellite, GINGA; the scientific satellite, AKEBONO, for the observation of northern lights; HITEN, to conduct lunar swingbys; YOHKOH, for solar observation; and the X-ray astronomy satellite, ASCA. Such splendid results were possible with the establishment of the constant level of high performance of the M-3SII and of the credibility of its satellites. Apart from GINGA, which reentered the atmosphere, and HITEN, which fell onto the moon, all the above satellites are currently continuing their missions along with the scientific satellite, GEOTAIL, launched in 1992 through Japan-US cooperation for the study of solar-terrestrial system.

Considering scientific satellite missions as its core activities, ISAS has obtained sound results. This has been possible by launching medium- and small-size satellites at appropriate intervals. While continuing with this strategy to launch satellites, ISAS developed the launch vehicle of the next generation, M-V, and opened a new era for more substantial observations with this vehicle. The first M-V launched the world's first space VLBI satellite, HALCA. M-V then sent NOZOMI (Mars), HAYABUSA (asteroid), SUZAKU (X-ray), AKARI (infrared) and HINODE (sun) into orbit, and was ordered by the government to cease development.