JAXA, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, owns and runs about a dozen space, research and testing centers and across Japan. Located in Tsukuba Science City, Ibaraki, the Tsukuba Space Center (TKSC), opened in 1972, is arguably the center of Japan's entire space network.
Built upon a 530,000 square-meter estate surrounded by nature, the TKSC facility houses state-of-the-art equipment and testing facilities. TKSC plays a fundamental role in the research and development of spacecraft, satellites and rockets, and notably developed the 'Kibo' research module for the International Space Station back in 2007. Astronauts are also trained here, which makes it particularly an interesting experience for overseas visitors to come and experience life on the TKSC campus and gain a greater insight into JAXA's research and development efforts.
Whilst self-guided tours are possible, it is worth booking a free guided tour of the facilities, which will provide a greater understanding of the work that goes on at TKSC. English tours are available but book early, as they are less frequent than Japanese language tours. There are three main courses that will offer greater insight into those areas: the Astronauts Course shows the facilities for astronauts' training, selection and health care. The International Space Station Course offers a glimpse at the 'Kibo' Flight Control Room. The Rocket Course provides the chance to experience the simulated explosive sound of a rocket launch from a launch site.
Besides the main tour facilities, there are plenty of other areas accessible to regular visitors. A genuine 50m long H-II Launch Vehicle proudly sits at the heart of the TKSC complex. The Space Dome Exhibition Hall is freely accessible during the main opening hours and offers insight into the current status of JAXA's space development programmes. The 'Planet Cube' Lounge runs events and exhibitions and the Space Shop is not to be missed, offering space-related items.
Tsukuba Space Center is easily accessible by Highway Bus (for Tsukaba Centre from JR Tokyo Station), Airport Liner bus (between Narita Airport and Tsukuba Center), or a 10 minute taxi ride from Tsukuba station (15 minutes from Tsuchiura station).