The age of space development has shifted from a state-led era to one in which private companies play a leading role. It is important for Japan to utilise the private sector to keep pace with global trends.
The government has compiled the Basic Plan for Space Policy as a guideline for future space policy. Currently, the Japanese space industry is an about one trillion yen ($9.3 billion) market, but the government plans to double that figure by the early 2030s.
Until now, the state has been responsible for space development, which costs a lot of money. With the cost of launching rockets decreasing in recent years, businesses that use small satellites for communications and big data analysis are thought to be promising.
It is necessary to nurture new markets by incorporating such technologies as autonomous driving.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has outsourced the transportation of supplies and personnel to the private sector since the retirement of its space shuttle fleet.
In May, start-up Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) successfully sent two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on its own spacecraft.
This marked a major turning point in reviewing the roles of the government and the private sector, and utilising the vitality of the private sector for space development more than before.
Start-ups such as Interstellar Technologies Inc of Hokkaido, which is attempting to launch a rocket, and Space One Co, which is currently building a launch-pad in Wakayama prefecture, are attracting attention in Japan.
The government should encourage new entrants and support the growth of the industry.
The basic plan also stipulates that Japan will participate in the Artemis programme, a US project to send astronauts to the moon. In the late 2020s, Japanese astronauts may stand on the moon for the first time.
Competition over the natural resources on the moon is expected. Japan should use the Artemis project as a foothold to join the competition, to expand the possibilities for the development of natural resources.
Through its involvement in the operation of the ISS, Japan has sent Japanese astronauts into space and acquired know-how. By participating in the project, Japan should demonstrate its international presence in space development.
China is stepping up its efforts be a “space power”. It has embarked on the construction of a space station and exploration of the moon. Space has become the stage for a supremacy race between the US and China.
Space development is also closely related to military affairs. The basic plan calls for strengthening national security, including the development of technologies for satellites capable of detecting missiles.
The government plans to strengthen cooperation with the US in space surveillance, apparently with an eye on China’s recent experiments in destroying satellites.
The situation involving space is rapidly changing. Technological progress is also remarkable. A long-term strategy that can respond appropriately to the changing times is essential for the government.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK