Jul 04 2008
Japan is a key global leader in 21st Century space, and its potential for the future has never been brighter. Having recently captured global headlines again when its Kibo Module — “the Lexus of space labs” according to Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly — was delivered to the International Space Station (ISS), it promises to take ISS science to new heights. At 37 feet long, it’s 13 feet longer than the U.S. Harmony Lab and exceeds Europe’s Columbus by 14 feet.
Japan’s sophisticated style of international cooperation (e.g., on ISS) is the model of what we expect to see grow and flourish towards the 2015 Maslow Window as humans move to establish permanent bases on the Moon and as we accept the challenge of Mars.
Having been the 3rd nation to send a spacecraft to the Moon in 1990, Japan continues that illustrious tradition with its Kaguya (SELENE) mission currently in lunar orbit. Billed as the largest and most sophisticated lunar mission since Apollo, it is engaged in a full scientific study of the Moon, including the first HDTV imaging from lunar orbit, in preparation for Japanese astronauts and a base on the Moon in the 2020s.
At the same time, Japan’s Hayabusa spacecraft utilized low thrust, xenon-propelled ion engines to approach the near Earth asteroid Itokawa (named after the father of Japanese rocket development) for an attempted sample acquisition. Its ambitious planned planetary exploration missions include the Mercury “BepiColombo” Exploration mission jointly with the European Space Agency, and the Venus Climate Orbiter.
To coordinate all of this impressive operational and planning activity, in 2003 Japan formed its new space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), that integrated activities from the Institute of Space and Astronatical Science (ISAS), the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), and the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL).
This year in late May, Japan’s Basic Space Bill became law. According to Setsuko Aoki of Keio University (AJISS-Commentary, 26 June 2008), the new space law should clarify the military use of Japanese space assets and expand space industry. In particular, it updates Japan’s official 1969 understanding of the use of space “for peaceful purposes only” to mean “non-aggressive” (not “non-military); this is consistent with the pacifist spirit of Japan’s Constitution, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and the interpretation of the rest of the world. However, Japan’s Constitution still prohibits it from engaging in “collective self-defense” for example, in cooperation with the U.S..
Professor Aoki thinks the solution is to, “…reach a comprehensive strategic agreement between Japan and the U.S. covering both military and civilian use of space…” She suggests that one place to start would be to discard the 1990 Japan-US Satellite Procurement Agreement — concluded under vastly different economic circumstances. In effect, this would allow “…Japan to develop its own satellites and strengthen its space capabilities.” The goal is to build on Japan-US partnerships in ISS, GPS standardization, and lunar exploration to expand further their cooperative activities in space.