A New Direction For Japan’s Space Program?

By Paul Kallender-Umezu
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
May 06, 2013
Credit: JAXA

The first order of business for new Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) leader Naoki Okumura will be to reorient his nation's space program from advanced development to activities that may produce some commercial return on investment.

Based on the latest five-year “Basic Plan” for space promulgated by the Office of National Space Policy (ONSP), the new direction is putting pressure on JAXA to cut, postpone or reduce to research and development some or most of the agency's flagship science, technology and manned spaceflight programs.

Some or all of the satellites planned for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, the HTV-R pressurized sample-and-crew-return mini-shuttle and the H-X/H-3 launcher programs could face cancellation, concedes JAXA's Hiroshi Sasaki, senior advisor in the strategic planning and management department.

“For 20 years, so much money has been spent by JAXA [and its predecessor, Nasda] on R&D, but there has been very little commercial return,” says Hirotoshi Kunitomo, ONSP director.

Under legislation passed last year, JAXA policy is now controlled by the 23-member ONSP, which was created at the end of a process begun in the middle of the past decade to wrest control of space planning from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), which controlled 60% of Japan's roughly 350 billion yen ($3.75 billion) annual government space budget through its oversight of JAXA.

With a charter for change, ONSP reports directly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has final say over which of JAXA's programs are funded. In turn, ONSP's Basic Plan resets Japan's space policy to three mutually reinforcing goals: promoting national security; boosting industry; and securing the country's technological independence for all major space applications from reliance on foreign agencies—providing this supports the first two goals.

Kunitomo asserts that ONSP will continue to support frontier science as a lower priority, as long as it is based on the sort of low-cost, high-impact space science designed by JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, embodied by the Hayabusa asteroid sample-return mission. But former high-priority goals to promote environmental monitoring and human space activities and put robots on the Moon now have been moved down the list and must fight for funding, Kunitomo says.

Comments On Articles