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Japan, India plan joint space research project

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) June 12, 2009
Japan and India plan to launch their first joint space research project this year, an experiment in growing plants in zero gravity, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency researcher said Friday.

The two Asian powers are set to launch a small and unmanned Indian-made satellite in October, carrying Japanese laboratory equipment, that is set to orbit for about one week at a height of around 600 kilometres (370 miles).

Aboard the satellite they will seek to grow a type of algae, said Noriaki Ishioka, a professor for Japan's space agency JAXA, who called the experiment "a basic study on photosynthetic activity in space."

"We will retrieve the satellite after a week or so and conduct genetic examinations on how the zero-gravity environment affects photosynthesis."

While the project could eventually pave the way for "space farming," he cautioned that the basic experiment -- using a type of algae called spirulina, not related to the food supplement of the same name -- was an early step.

"Spirulina is edible, but it doesn't taste so good," he said.

Japan already sends astronauts to the International Space Station and has conducted a variety of space experiments in its Kibo laboratory.

But the joint project with the Indian Space Research Organisation aims to allow Japan to diversify its channels for space research.

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