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Japan’s space agency is giving special soldering iron training to technicians who manufacture parts for H-IIA rockets to help them improve the quality of their work.

The idea for the training came in January when a last-minute problem cropped up in a part for a H-IIA at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. plant in Aichi Prefecture. The rocket was to be loaded with a satellite to gather intelligence for the government.

That led the agency to begin offering special training to technicians at 25 companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co., in March.

The teachers are veteran masters of the soldering iron, a tool long used to connect electrical parts that is still considered useful in working with parts in space rockets.

The craftsmen are no longer in active work but the agency asked them to offer their expertise to skilled workers so the techniques can be handed down to posterity.

Most people consider satellites and rockets the cream of high technology, produced by high-tech equipment. Actually, most parts are handcrafted and one of a kind.

In late August, the space agency held a class in Tokyo’s Akihabara district to train about 20 technicians in the technique of operating soldering irons, which seems easy but requires skill.

The knowledge that an error on their part in making rocket or satellite parts could lead to an accident made those taking the course tense.

Fujiya Matsuda, 73, a former NEC Corp. technician who in the past was named a modern-day master of soldering, was among the teachers.

The teachers praised one man for the skillful way he carried out his work, but they were critical of those who failed to properly handle the soldering irons, saying the parts they soldered could hardly be used in space.

The trouble involving the H-IIA rocket in January was found just before it was to be shipped to the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The hydraulic system, designed to change the engine’s injection directions, malfunctioned.

Mitsubishi plant engineers disassembled the engine and discovered faulty soldering work in a connecting part used for relaying electrical signals. They also spotted a break in a cable.

The discovery put the plant in a panic. Fortunately, the trouble was fixed and the rocket launched on schedule.

In basic soldering, a technician uses a heated soldering iron with temperatures soaring to several hundred degrees to melt tin and lead alloys, which are poured into connecting joints of a part. The iron must be withdrawn before it gets overheated.

Teacher Koichi Shimizu, 62, said, “Each manufacturer used to have soldering iron masters, but the automation of production lines has robbed them of opportunities to display their highly advanced skills.”

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