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Driving an advanced space mission and attempting to solve the mystery of dark matter

Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System

In July 2012, a new particle was discovered by using the world's largest elliptic collision accelerator at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. Interest was raised around the world by the announcement that this particle may be the Higgs particle which substantiates the origin of matter in cosmic theory.

According to current cosmic theory, it is thought that after the birth of our universe, matter-less elementary particles came and went at the speed of light. Eventually, the symmetry of the vacuum was broken and matter was born in a sea of Higgs particles where resistance existed. The Higgs particle, also known as the "God particle," proves the existence of an origin for matter, or all things in creation. The discovery of the Higgs particle essentially completes the standard model of particles.

However, there are many issues in modern elementary particle physics which cannot be explained by the standard model. One such issue is integration of the 4 forces of gravity, weak interaction, electromagnetism and strong interaction. In the case of weak interaction and electromagnetism, it is clear both theoretically and experimentally that integration of the two forces is possible. However, integration of the other forces requires heavy particles which are demonstrated by the supersymmetry theory and the superstring theory, but do not exist in the standard model.

In actuality, current theory can explain and demonstrate the existence for only 4% of total matter in the cosmos. Of the other 96%, it is thought that unknown matter called dark matter accounts for 23%, with the remaining 73% being dark energy. From observation of cosmic structure, it is known that dark matter is weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) and that dark matter may be the new particle which is required by elementary particle physics. In this way, the discovery of dark matter and new particles will solve the mystery of the universe's origin and evolution, and will break new ground in advanced cosmic theory. Additionally, it will bring great advancements to elementary particle physics. As such, it is a very important and challenging research theme.

In order to address this theme, the Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System was established in the autumn of 2010 to promote joint research projects for conducting observation experiments in cosmic space. We discussed several national and international large-scale projects being conducted by the institute with Mr. Shoji Torii, Director of the institute and Professor at the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

Professor Shoji Torii, Director of the Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System

Waseda's pedigree in space science

Space science at Waseda University has its own unique history and tradition. One factor leading to the core of the current project was space science activities conducted at the Research Institute for Science and Engineering (currently restructured to a department of the Waseda Research Institute for Science and Engineering). Retired professors Tadayoshi Doke and Jun Kikuchi pioneered development of space sensors and particle measurement devices. Such technology has been adopted for the space development of JAXA. The majority of members at the current research institute have conducted research activities as part of this pedigree.

Waseda has also conducted a project to develop an ultra-small satellite, which is rare for a university to attempt independently. Through total mobilization of scientific and engineering technology which includes fuselage design, heat control systems, attitude control, data processing, communication systems, power systems and experimental system, the project has sought to develop an ultra-small satellite which can withstand special space missions. Waseda-sat2, the second satellite developed, was excellently selected as part of the MEXT's open application for small satellites and was launched in 2010.

Furthermore, Waseda's reputation in theoretical physics has been spread throughout the world by individuals such as Mikio Namiki (deceased), who pioneered fundamental theory such as elementary particle theory, and Katsumi Yamada, who theoretically predicted neutron star matter. Physicists who inherited this history form the project research center known as the Institute for Astrophysics. Currently, members of the institute are responsible for the theoretical analysis team at the Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System. In this way, our institution possesses a broad and deep range of researchers specializing in fields from science to engineering.

"Up until now, each researcher involved in space science independently acquired external funding or conducted joint research with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). In this way, world-class research results have been produced. Of course, researchers known about each other's activities and have cooperated. However, efforts to conduct joint official research in space science are a recent trend at Waseda University. Such efforts began from around 2009, when a movement began to establish our institute." (Professor Torii)

Currently, the institute is advancing 7 main projects (Figure 1). As exemplified by the name Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System, all of these projects are based on guidelines for developing complete mission systems from space observation and experiments to analysis of collected data. As a result, a single project last for a relatively long period of time. During that period, researchers shift between R&D phases with significantly different characteristics. Examples of such phases include a research phase for observation and analytical methods, a development phase for system devices installed in satellites, a phase for data download and analysis of space data after launch, and a theoretical research phase based on analytical data.

"If you want to be a project leader in this field, your mind needs to be divided into several different sections. Sometimes you need to be an engineer, sometimes you have to be an analyst, and other times you have to be a theorist. Put simply, the ability to switch between different roles is essential." (Professor Torii)

Figure 1: 7 projects being conducted at the Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System

Leading the mission of the experiment module Kibo

No other private university possesses a space science research center that aggregates such a large variety of levels as can be organized by the institute even for a single project. Activities at Waseda University features a high degree of comprehensive strength that rivals the space science research centers of former imperial national universities such as the University of Tokyo and Kyushu University. Our institute also has a strong international presence.

One example is CALET (Calorimetric Electron Telescope), a mission system which was independently developed by Waseda University. CALET occupied an entire port on the outboard experiment platform secondary-stage plan of the Japan experimental module Kibo in the International Space Station. A research team led by Professor Torii was responsible for overseeing the entire development project. (Figure 2)

Normally, this kind of observation unit is almost never entrusted independently to a university. However, CALET is a mission system project for conducting advanced space science. Specifically, it measures electrons, gamma rays, protons and atomic core constituents within a high energy field in space. It also attempts to solve the mystery of dark matter by using an acceleration/diffusion mechanism for cosmic rays. CALET was selected for use in a Japanese national project. (Figure 3)

Figure 2: Exposed area of the Japan experiment module in the International Space State
1 of the 7 observation units exposed into space is occupied by Waseda University's CALET.

Figure 3: Mission of CALET
Only 4% of space matter has had its existence clarified. The other 96% is dark matter, of which 73% is dark energy which has not been clarified as energy.

"Our university is highly recognized for our record in the field of high-energy physics and our comprehensive system development ability. As a result, we were entrusted with all aspects of the science mission from forming an idea, developing elemental technology and conducting theoretical analysis. Conversely, JAXA shared the expenses associated with the development of hardware, launching and operation." (Professor Torii)

However, being entrusted with so much has placed great responsibility on the institute. The institute must define required specifications for development of mounting devices, confirm an enormous amount of design specifications submitted from development manufacturers, and cooperate with JAXA in order to confirm processes leading to delivery. Furthermore, in terms of conducting the mission, the institute must cooperate and negotiate with JAXA, undertake joint research projects with universities in America and Italy, and make adjustments with the Tsukuba Space Center which supervises the downlink for data from space. Indeed, there is truly a mountain of work to be done.

"It only takes a few seconds for data transmitted from space to pass through NASA and the Tsukuba Space Station before being delivered to Waseda University. Initially, all data is sent to Waseda University. We then forward the data to American and Italian universities which are part of the joint research project." (Professor Torii)

Conducting a partnership agreement between JAXA and Waseda

Additionally, the project for the lunar probe Kaguya (SELENE) has finished collecting data in space and has entered the analysis phase. The project is making great contributions to research on the process in which the moon was formed. Specifically, an independently developed core gamma ray spectrometer is used to clarify the distribution of minerals on the moon's surface at a world-class level of high accuracy. The next-generation satellite plan SELENE-2 seeks to conduct even more accurate observation by using devices installed in a rover which will land on the moon's surface.

The Nasu radio interferometer project is the only space science research conducted using electromagnetic wave observation on the ground. The project uses a unique high-performance radio telescope, another piece of equipment which is rare for a university. Recently, the project has attracted significant attention for the discovery of fluctuating radio waves. The institute expects results through joint research with other projects, such as simultaneous measurement with gamma rays observed by the Fermi satellite and CALET.

(*The May 2010 issue of "Knowledge Co-Creation" introduces activities of Associate Professor Jun Kataoka, who serves as Project Leader for the gamma-ray satellite and x-ray satellite.)

A partnership with JAXA is essential for conducting any of these projects. Previously, each project formed independent partnerships. However, in 2006, an inter-department research partnership agreement was conducted between the Faculty of Science and Engineering and JAXA's Aerospace research and Development Directorate and Aviation Program Group. Then, prior to the establishment of the institute, the Waseda-JAXA Partnership Agreement was conducted in May 2009 (Figure 4). The agreement moved beyond project cooperation to promote the formation of a continuous relationship. For example, Waseda research members visit JAXA for periodic training and seminars. In the future, our university intends to pursue an even wider range of cooperation which includes the humanities and social sciences.

Figure 4: Advancement of projects based on the partnership agreement with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

"By conducting a partnership agreement, we are able to share more clearly the organizational contributions which our university can make to JAXA-in other words, to Japan's national projects. I feel that the partnership has led to strengthened mutual trust and responsibility." (Professor Torii)

By establishing the Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System, space science at Waseda University is moving towards a new stage. There are growing expectations for the institute to lead the world in new discoveries regarding space and matter, as well as solutions to the mystery of human beings and life.

Related Links

Waseda University: Waseda Institute for Space Science Observation System
Waseda University: Organization for University Research Initiatives
Waseda University: Waseda Research Institute for Science and Engineering
Waseda University: Research Institute for Science and Engineering
Waseda University: Faculty of Science and Engineering
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)