As General Manager of aviation consulting firm “aeroconcept”, based in Leipzig, Germany, James Wyatt is extremely familiar with the air freight industry. But he has never experienced a
transport like the one illustrated and described below, with him as the main actor. Until now.
Here is the full story:
When embarking on the launch of the On-Board Courier (OBC) product I certainly didn’t expect the call which came in mid-April from the Goethe University in Frankfurt. The request, from Dr.
Beverley Tkalcec was to bring Asteroid grains from Sendai, Japan to the Goethe University in Frankfurt, where the samples would be tested in a secure scientific environment before collecting the
samples at the end of July and delivering them back to Sendai, Japan.
“It was impossible, not to be drawn into this project”
The asteroid grains were collected directly from the asteroid Ryugu in the Hayabusa2 space mission with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in June 2018.
Such a project naturally requires significant time for preparation and execution. Owing to the great sensitivity surrounding this mission I decided to take the mission on myself. Whilst not being significantly fascinated by space flight, even as an aviation enthusiast, it was simply impossible not to get drawn into this project.
The first point of contact was Dr. Beverley Tkalcec at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and we spent a lot of time together, preparing the foundation of the mission.
Extremely challenging mission
The current global circumstances of course make travel more challenging and non-more so than Japan in the last few months. Currently the country is closed to any type of foreign visitor, with a strict visa approval program and a mandated 14-day quarantine on arrival. This made the initial view of the mission extremely challenging from a logistical point of view.
Through the development of a small project team both in Germany and Japan we were able to start the process. The biggest obstacle was the collection of the samples in Japan and the approval for that. With a direct application at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and several forms, certified letters and approvals my single-entry visa was granted less than 48 hours prior to the scheduled departure, 2 months after the process started.
Precise preparation paid off
After obtaining the visa from the Japanese embassy in Berlin I headed to Japan. In order to reduce the complexity and ban on any kind of domestic travel for foreigners we agreed on the sample handover in Tokyo with the lead Professor from the Tohoku University operating the domestic leg of the transport. I collected the samples on Saturday 10th July from Prof. Dr. Tomoki Nakamura at Narita Airport and left Japan on Sunday 11th for the trip back to Germany on board a Qatar Airways jetliner via the Gulf. Transiting always adds a layer of potential complexity, however due to a precise preparation, aligned with QR, everything went exactly to plan.
On arrival in Frankfurt on Monday 12th July I was welcomed by Professor Dr. Frank Brenker and a Television / Radio news crew (HR Fernsehen (https://www.hr-fernsehen.de) who took some interviews and photos.
After, the samples were sent to Grenoble in France together with a team, led by Professor Brenker where the samples have been analyzed in a very minute detail.
Safe return to Japan
Last Sunday (01AUG21), the author has returned the tested asteroid grains in a secure condition to Tokyo where he handed them over to the responsible professor from the Tohoku University who is continuing the testing of the samples on behalf of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at their facilities.
For safeguarding their integrity during ground and air transportation, they were packed with oxygen absorbers to maintain the atmosphere in which they were obtained. All 5 samples were stowed into a shock proof and bright orange colored carry case with thick sponge padding. “Upright handling of the case during all times of the journey, including on board the aircraft was a mandatory precondition to prevent any significant movement of the samples and avoid any damage,” pronounces Mr. Wyatt.
During the KLM flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo, the asteroids got some special attention from the crew but also athletes from the Dutch national boxing and golf sports teams as well as the media crew accompanying them. No wonder, because a mission like this, that securely packed asteroid material is carried by an On-Board Courier in a commercial aircraft, has probably never happened before.
Prior to the journey, the samples that were of zero commercial value where fully declared towards the customs authorities as part of the mission planning.
After arrival in Narita, there was great interest from the quarantine staff at the Ministry of Health once they read the supporting documentation in Japanese provided by JAXA and the Tohoku University. A lot of smiles and interested eyes! The process took 5 hours before Mr. Wyatt was admitted to the arrivals area. A long process after an 11-hour flight!
James Wyatt's OBC mission ended with the landing of the asteroid dust at Narita on 01AUG21 and its transfer to Tohoku University. His next demanding OBC mission might follow in November but is not confirmed yet. Insertion in italic: HS
I am extremely delighted to be involved in such a project and to see the front-line view with the client every step of the way. The perfect example of a ‘can do attitude’, something that Lewis
King from the Albion Aviation Group and myself pride ourselves on with our OBC product.
A huge thank you to the dedicated professionals at the Tohoku University in Japan and the Goethe University in Frankfurt. We are very honored to have your trust placed in our product for such a critical mission.