Japan to join lunar probe project in chance to burnish space technology

The Yomiuri Shimbun Will this become a foothold with which Japanese astronauts can land on the moon?

It has been decided that Japan will also aim to take part in the U.S.-planned scheme to build a space station to orbit the moon. The government’s Committee on National Space Policy has incorporated this objective into a revised time schedule of its basic plan on space policy.

Keeping a lunar mission by a Japanese astronaut in view as well, the revision schedule also makes clear that Japan “will aim at realizing moon-landing and lunar surface activities through international cooperation.”

This is a revision plan replete with potential. It could lead to fostering the next generation, who will take on the challenge of space development. As participation enables Japan to learn at close hand the current state of nations advanced in space technology, it could become a good opportunity for this country to enhance its basic technological strength.

As to specific fields that Japan should realize under the space station project, the government lists such tasks as the purification of air and water within the station and a technique to drill the surface of the moon.

While leaving tasks such as the development of a manned space vehicle up to the United States, which is close to realization, Japan will assume other roles also considered essential for the scheme, with the aim of promoting Japan’s presence in the project.

If Japan can advance its space technology, this country will be able to improve its credibility to win orders to manufacture artificial satellites or to launch rockets, thus strengthening its international competitiveness. The participation will also contribute to vitalizing this country’s wide range of support industries, such as those related to the development of materials and remote-controlled technology.

Private sector’s power key

Japan’s space-related annual budget is about ¥300 billion. For Japan to aim for lunar exploration under such severe financial conditions, it is realistic to pursue efficient development through international cooperation.

To take part in the scheme, the private-sector’s power of development is indispensable. In the United States, government-led space development has been on the decline. As the costs of rocket launches have fallen markedly, two private companies will start operating new manned space vehicles next year. It’s time for Japan, too, to review the existing system under which the government furnishes all the funds necessary.

International cooperation in lunar exploration is also significant from the viewpoint of security.

Russia is pursuing lunar exploration as the key project to follow the International Space Station (ISS), which has been set to operate until 2024. The United States and Russia have already agreed to cooperate on lunar exploration.

When U.S. President Donald Trump visited Japan last month, he agreed with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that both countries will bolster cooperation in space exploration. The agreement is an indication the United States also counts on Japan’s role in the international project that will follow the ISS, in which countries such as Russia, the United States and Japan are taking part.

Emerging economies such as China and India also have great interest in lunar exploration, having each sent a lunar probe. To make great achievements, it will become important to build a framework of international cooperation broader than that of the ISS.

An international forum on space exploration, with about 60 countries set to participate, will be held in Tokyo next spring with Japan as the host country. The government’s abilities as a coordinator for international cooperation will be put to the test.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 5, 2017)Speech


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