Living in space will require self-contained, sustainable supplies of water, breathable air, and food, as well as self-contained methods to process and recycle wastes.
In the Earth's ecosystem, there is material circulation: microorganisms decompose excrement to nourish plants, and plants are consumed as food by human beings and animals. We at JAXA are trying to artificially create such a system in space. New technologies can decompose all sorts of organic or combustible waste in a short period of time. Then, as in Earth's natural systems, the recycled wastes can be used to grow plant food for humans. When these technologies are established, they may be applied to help with waste and environmental issues on Earth.
It has been about 50 years since the beginning of the Space Race. Thousands of launches have been conducted since, and as a result, satellites and rockets weighing thousands of tons in total, have been sent into space. At the end of their mission, they are left in orbit, and turn into space debris. The amount of space debris is on the rise, and there is an increasing danger that these one of these huge objects will collide with a space shuttle or a working satellite.
JAXA has spared no effort to prevent the same environmental pollution in space as has occurred on Earth, and to devise state-of-the-art technologies to solve this problem. To do this, we must first grasp the whole picture of space debris, prevent space vehicles from colliding with it, find a way to collect and remove it, and produce less of it in the future.
Space is a very harsh environment for humans due to its vacuum and radiation. In addition, going to space itself is a very hard task as we have to ride in a launch vehicle with extreme acceleration and adapt to other severe conditions. People require life supporting equipment to live and work in space, but a space robot doesn't. It can work with just a power source for solar batteries and communication functions.
Moreover, it can efficiently and automatically cover a large area and a huge structure. Therefore, it is more desirable for us to have a space robot or a unmanned vehicle carry out tasks as much as possible in terms of safety and efficiency. JAXA is researching and developing space robots, sensors, and autonomous control methods for making a space robot perform jobs in space such as probes, assembly and maintenance.
To address energy problems on the ground, research and development is being conducted on the Space Solar Power System that will transmit power using microwaves or lasers. The transmitted power is converted to terrestrial electricity and hydrogen for use on the ground.