Since its School of Engineering (SoE) opened its doors in 1923, Tohoku University has been at the forefront of engineering research which encompasses a wide range of disciplines. These now include technologies crucial in enabling faster and safer yet cost-effective exploration of the heavens via rocketry and other means. Engineering at SoE, mostly based in Sendai, covers all areas encompassed by "aerospace" engineering, which has culminated in the successful launch earlier this year of a micro satellite. More such satellites are slated to go aloft successively in wake of this "orbital frontier" established by Tohoku University. In addition, Tohoku University today has a trio of leading lights covering space development in their respective fields. The three men are all carrying on work related to aerospace at SoE.
The trio comprises: Professor Akira Ando, of the Department of Electrical Engineering who is a plasma* physics authority at present focusing on electric propulsion in addition to supersonic flow in space, not to mention power systems in general; Professor Keisuke Asai, of the Department of Aerospace Engineering whose research concerns experimental aerodynamics of aerospace systems, including experimental simulation of aerial flight conditions as well as development of image-based measurement techniques; and, Associate Professor Kanjuro Makihara, of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, who has research interests in "energy harvesting" from space stations and other such spaceborne structures.
In view of this, the "tech triumvirate" at center stage of current space exploration efforts were asked to talk about their research perspectives while elaborating on their visions for the future.
The session started off with the moderators noting that Dr. Asai is a former Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) researcher well known for his international links including National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) . He is now collaborating closely with Dr. Ando, whose space propulsion work has been highlighted since the successful electrical engine maneuvering of the Japanese Asteroid Explorer "Hayabusa" mission. It was underscored that Dr. Makihara is the most recent of the three professors to join Tohoku University; nevertheless, as he is still associated with the JAXA/ISAS (Institute of Space and Astronautical Science), he is also able to fully utilize JAXA collaboration links.
*Plasma: A plasma encompasses ionized and energized gases emitting photons, which include positive and negative ions, electrons, and neutral atoms and/or molecules including radicals. The charged particles (ions and electrons) can be further energized by the interaction with electrostatic and electromagnetic fields and provide thrust in space for satellites or other interstellar vehicles.