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A Japanese space capsule loaded with made-in-space super conductive material returned to Earth early morning May 30, Japan local time. The capsule splashed down some 620-miles (1,000-kilometers) south of Tokyo, Japan, near the Ogasawara Islands.

Called the Unmanned Space Experiment Recovery System—or USERS spacecraft—the payload was lofted into space in September 2002. The capsule was one of two payloads aboard an H-2A booster launched by the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) from the Tanegashima Space Center. Also onboard was a Japanese Data Relay Test Satellite.

Super conductive material

Adrift in free space for nearly 10 months, the recoverable spacecraft has been busy churning out a super conductive product, making use of an electrically heated furnace. The in-space experiment involves Gd-Ba-Cu-O type super conductive material that has, in past ground studies, been used as a film for photoinduced superconducting nanowires.

Material scientists in Japan are investigating super conductive magnets for various systems such as flywheel-type electric energy storage systems and magnetically levitated train transportation. Large, high-quality crystals that are contamination free can be realized under a microgravity environment, according to Japanese researchers involved in the project.

The made-in-space product returned to Earth in a special reentry module.

As planned, the reentry module reportedly slowed down by the firing of a solid rocket motor then reentered the atmosphere. At some 3-miles altitude (5-kilometers) above Earth, a parachute system then opened, dropping the capsule into ocean waters east of the Ogasawara Islands.

Aircraft and sea-based recovery teams were at the ready to pinpoint the capsule’s landing zone and begin retrieval operations.

Space industrialization goals

Left to continue orbiting the Earth is the USERS Service Module. It is slated to conduct verification of commercial technology and components in the space environment. Data gleaned by the service module will be used to design and build future satellite hardware.

The Unmanned Space Experiment Recovery System is a project of the Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer (USEF).

This group was established in 1986 with support from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).


Based in Tokyo, USEF’s organizational goal is to promote space utilization and the industrialization of space.