A New Direction For Japan’s Space Program?

By Paul Kallender-Umezu
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Instead, only one of the three ONSP core programs—Japan's launch vehicles—is run by JAXA.

The top-priority program, run by the ONSP, is to build out the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), Japan's regional GPS overlay, with a budget approved for maintaining a constellation of four QZSS satellites by around 2018. A post-2020 build-out to a seven-satellite constellation will then give Japan its own independent regional positioning, navigation and timing capability.

The second is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (Asean) newly sanctioned disaster management network run by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). This requires a constellation of Earth-observing satellites equipped with X- and L-band radar and hyperspectral sensors to monitor Southeast Asia. Japan will provide at least the first three satellites, with more funding through foreign aid packages. Vietnam has signed up for two X-band satellites. The system's once-daily global-revisit policy requires a minimum constellation of four satellites that will need to be replenished every five years or so.

The third priority has JAXA focusing on improving the current H-2A launch vehicle in partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) while continuing improvement of its new low-cost, launch-on-demand Epsilon solid-fuel rocket for smaller payloads. A variant of the Epsilon will be uprated to around 1,800 kg (3,970 lb.) from 1,200 kg to low Earth orbit, matching that of its predecessor M-V launch vehicle.

JAXA projects that fall outside the Basic Plan's goals but already were funded for development will continue if it would be counter-productive to stop them, says Kunitomo. These include launching the upcoming ALOS-2 land-observing system and the Global Precipitation Measurement/Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar satellites. The Greenhouse Gases-Observing Satellite-2 (Gosat-2) will also continue, as it is funded by the Environment Ministry, not MEXT/JAXA.

But under a Feb. 25 budget plan drawn up by Kunitomo, several programs face close scrutiny, including the HTV-R sample-return mission, any future launches of the HTV-R transfer vehicle beyond the current seven planned to 2016, lunar exploration and all of JAXA's follow-on environmental missions.

The ONSP's logic for reauditing the HTV-R is harsh. As it is too expensive to commercialize, the H-2B will be ditched as dead once its HTV duties are finished. The HTV's only purpose is to service the International Space Station, and Japan must minimize its costs, so logically the HTV, HTV-R and H-2B have no future beyond 2016 and the HTV's seventh flight. Indeed, one industry official tells Aviation Week that Japan may launch at most two post-2016 missions.

The Basic Plan mandates that the agency's already-low-priority environmental-monitoring programs undergo a “focus and reselection process.” This means the proposed GCOM-C, EarthCARE cloud radar mission and ALOS-3 electro-optical missions, the second main plank of Japan's flagship international cooperation programs with NASA and the European Space Agency, will struggle for funding, and not all will make it, says Kunitomo. But a reconfigured ALOS-3 that can adapt to the Asean disaster management network at a fraction of its projected price would be more acceptable, he concedes.

As for the putative H-X, Kunitomo says ONSP questions the need to spend $2 billion and 8-10 years to develop it. JAXA and MHI say the program requires a launch system that no one can guarantee will be commercially competitive.

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