150 years of UK-Japan collaboration: Science, Technology and Innovation Symposium
– Astronomy & Space Science –

by Dr Daisuke Kawata (Lecturer at MSSL, UCL)

Last year saw the 150th anniversary of the first exchange of scholars between Japan and the UK. In the late stage of the Samurai period, five Japanese students, the ‘Choshu Five’, arrived at UCL, one of whom, Hirobumi Ito, later became the first prime minister of Japan. Since then, Japan and the UK have exchanged scholars and developed collaborative work across many fields including science, technology and innovation.

One of the fields in which we have a long history of collaboration is astronomy and space science. These links were formed when the Royal Greenwich Observatory supported Makoto Hirayama for his studies in astronomy in 1890; later he became the director of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, helping smooth the way for his successors.

Nowadays, our two countries have established a number of international projects which are aimed at solving frontier problems in astronomy and space science. To strengthen such cooperation, during Prime Minister Cameron’s visit to Japan in April 2012, the British and Japanese Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for wider cooperation on space-related activities for the two countries’ mutual benefit.

On 6 December 2013, the Embassy held a Science, Technology and Innovation Symposium on Astronomy & Space Science. This symposium highlighted past, current and future collaboration in astronomy and space science, covering a wide range of research topics, from the sun to cosmology. It was held as part of “The Japan-UK Science, Technology & Innovation Symposium” series.


Dr David Parker (CEO of UK Space Agency) stressed that space science and exploration is at the heart of the UK Space Agency. He also emphasized that cutting-edge sciences are supported by innovative technologies. For example, the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission (successfully launched on 19 December 2013) studies how the Milky Way formed and evolved. Gaia will map the position and velocities of stars in the Milky Way with unprecedented accuracy, corresponding to the width of a strand of human hair in Paris as seen from London! UK technology is significantly contributing to this major science mission, such as with the gigapixel digital camera onboard Gaia.
Dr Parker also stressed the importance of international collaboration. He highlighted the fact that the first major UK-Japan collaboration in space science was the Japan-led X-ray mission GINGA (1987-91), and many other joint endeavours have developed in various research areas. A future case will be BeppiColombo (launch planned for 2015), which is a joint project between Japan's ISAS/JAXA and the ESA, for the exploration of the planet Mercury.

Prof Saku Tsuneta (Director of ISAS/JAXA) also stressed that space missions are driven by the combination of space science and space technology, and that the ISAS is a unique place which hosts both space technology and space science divisions. He highlighted successful examples of UK-Japan collaboration since the 1980s, especially in Solar and X-ray missions. A recent case comes from HISAKI, launched by the Epsilon rocket on 14 September 2013. HISAKI is an Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) spectroscopic planet observatory. It is a relatively small satellite, but became a driver for the international joint observation campaign, including the UK-led Hubble Space Telescope observation of the Jupiter aurora. HISAKI is a pioneer of low-cost, high-cadence and focused missions.
Prof Tsuneta also stressed that international collaboration had led to Japanese space missions becoming more successful and gaining a higher profile, and hoped that UK-Japan collaboration could grow in the future.

Prof Hitoshi Murayama (UC Berkeley, Director of Kavli IPMU, University of Tokyo) gave a fascinating presentation about dark matter - the dominant matter in the Universe that has not yet been discovered. The Kavli IPMU (Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe) was founded as part of the World Premier International Research Center Initiative in 2007 to address fundamental questions about the Universe, such as "How did the universe begin?" and "What is it made of?", using the interdisciplinary collaboration of mathematicians, theoretical and experimental physicists and astronomers. About 60% of the researchers at Kavli IPMU come from abroad. Prof Murayama introduced a new instrument of the Subaru Telescope - Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC). HSC is built by the NAOJ (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan) and Kavli IPUM and is a 870 Mega pixel camera weighing 3t.
HSC can capture an image of the sky covering an area equal to nine times the area of the full moon in a single shot. He showed that one HSC image can encompass almost an entire disc of the Andromeda galaxy (M31), and still recognise individual stars. Kavli IPMU is leading a project to take deep and wide field images of the universe with the HSC, and re-construct a 3D map of dark matter distribution. Prof Murayama also introduced a planned next-generation instrument for the Subaru called PFS (Prime Focus Spectrograph), which can take 2,400 spectra at once, and can measure the distribution of galaxies in an unprecedented large volume of the universe. It is hoped that this will help with identifying the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

For details of other speakers, please see the full symposium programme and copies of their presentations online here.

Astronomy and space science are driven by interdisciplinary collaboration between engineers and scientists. Both the UK and Japan have a rich and strong legacy in technological developments and scientific discoveries. We could see from the symposium that the collaboration between the two countries in various areas of space technology and science is further developing, and we have many exciting future projects for exploring the universe!




Dr Daisuke Kawata (Lecturer at MSSL, UCL)