Japan regards space as an important industrial and commercial sector, and a national security asset. The Committee on National Space Policy and the National Space Policy Secretariat (NSPS) established within the Cabinet office set the country’s space policies across all ministries and agencies. In June 2020, Japan’s Basic Space Plan for the next ten years was revised at Cabinet level. Japan’s space policy aims to (1) ensure security in space, (2) help to alleviate disaster and environmental problems, (3) expand space exploration, and (4) use space industry to propel economic growth and innovation. While the space plan extols progresses achieved by Japan’s space industry and technology, it also points out that the world has advanced faster, and that Japan has been left behind.
Space security, market growth for the space industry and the ever-growing importance of space utilisation have led to a shift from government-led space development to a new era of public-private initiative. The Government supports start-up companies involved in small satellites and small launchers, and deploys policies encouraging downrange applications of existing infrastructure. Usually, however, the Government only helps in financing development and does not guarantee procurement, hence many start-ups are not profitable. Japan’s problem is that maintaining a strong space industry would require more government procurement and a growing commercial export market.
In 2020, the Government formed a “space operations unit” within the Air Self-Defense Forces (ASDF) of the Ministry of Defence. Some 20 members of the ASDF will monitor suspicious movements and electromagnetic interference against Japanese satellites. A planned optical telescope will monitor space debris and unidentified orbiting objects.
Europe has scored a major success in the private satellite market. Historically Japan only bought American satellites, but in March 2021 SKY Perfect JSAT and Airbus Defence and Space signed a procurement contract for the Superbird-9 communications satellite. It was the first time that a Japanese satellite operator selected a European satellite. The EBC warmly welcomes this development and hopes for an increase of lively Japan-Europe industrial exchanges in the future. Regarding government satellites, since 1990 those with business and practical applications have been procured through international tenders. Up to now they have included the Multi-functional Transport Satellite (MTSAT) / Meteorological satellite series and the broadcasting satellite (B-SAT) series. Direct bids by foreign companies are legally possible, but the tender documents should be written in Japanese, and there are some other legal and practical “glass barriers”; for instance, most of the communications and announcements are done in Japanese. No-tender government programmes include the science and technology satellites of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), some programmes under METI, and the defence-purpose remote-sensing Information Gathering Satellites (IGS). The NSPS’s priority is the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), a Japanese positioning, navigation and timing satellite system. An X-band defence communications satellite programme is also underway; two satellites have already been launched. The next major theme of interest for Japan’s space authorities is debris and space situational awareness. An early-warning low earth orbit constellation consisting of 50 small satellites is being studied.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) actively helps all-Japanese industry consortia to supply satellite systems to emerging countries through Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding. The packages often include satellites, launch services, operations, data analysis, maintenance, training, technology transfers, and other services. Contrary to EU policy, Japan’s ODA is tied, which means that contracts must be awarded to its domestic industry, resulting in a distorted market that basically excludes foreign manufacturers and service providers. The Cabinet Office leads a joint government-industry task force on the export of space-related products.
A continuing risk in Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects is that satellites with both government and commercial payloads could be declared “governmental” as far as building and launching them is concerned. Foreign satellite makers and launchers could thus be excluded from Japan’s commercial market in a piecemeal fashion.
Regarding launchers, international development competition has heated up, and the demand for lower launch costs is reaching an unsustainable level. Japan is developing H3 and Europe is developing Ariane 6. The development of both launchers face delays due to the COVID-19 and technical issues. The first flight of H3 is currently planned for before the end of Japan’s fiscal year 2022 while Ariane 6 aims for the fourth quarter of 2023.
Concerned by Japan’s technological lag and future loss of competitiveness, experts have started work on a concept and a strategy towards a next-generation “revolutionary future space transport system”. A committee established by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to study a roadmap towards its realization is considering a rapidly upgraded version of H3 for government missions and private missions to the Moon and Mars. Its simultaneous, albeit longer-term subject is a fully re-usable space plane for point-to-point (such as Tokyo-Paris) high-speed commercial travel with an estimated market of tens of billions of euros. It mentions the importance of international cooperation in these developments. Regarding re-usability of the revolutionary future space transport system, France’s space agency CNES National Centre for Space Studies), Germany’s aerospace center DLR and JAXA are already working together on Callisto, a reduced-scale reusability demonstrator.
Launcher activities regarding small satellites and constellations have been more dynamic than expected. However, not only is the future outlook of individual initiatives uncertain, but integrating satellite manufacture, launch and services into a single company would also not increase their accessible market. In this respect, Japan and Europe are in similar situations: an insufficient government launch market making commercial launch contracts indispensable. As both H3 and Ariane 6 now under development will need improved versions, a full cooperation on these would be conductive to drastically lower costs and innovation avenues, leading to more competitiveness and more international contributions. It is also probably indispensable in order for Japan and Europe to maintain their independent space transportation systems.
Both Japan and Europe operate solid propellant national launchers: Epsilon (Japan) and VEGA (Europe). Mitigation of slugs in the low earth orbit produced by the plume and of contamination of soil by the plume at lift-off are common problems for Japan and Europe in terms of space and the earth sustainability respectively.
Japanese investment in ground equipment has been spurred by its move into security and defence applications. Japan’s space activities increasingly require ground equipment for image processing and interpretation, and for applications in agriculture, fisheries and geophysics. In addition, homeland security-type applications enhance defence capability. Protectionist procurement methods are still being used in this area to the disadvantage of foreign suppliers, but KRATOS sold their ground system and antennas to JAXA, JSAT and others as MELCO’s ground system is too expensive.
Japan has many start-up companies active in all fields of satellites, launchers and space services. Many of these ventures hire quite a few foreign employees and include international activities in their programs from the beginning. The EBC would wish the Japanese Government to actively promote cooperation and integration of Japanese and European ventures.
Key issues and recommendations
Mr. Nikolaus Boltze
thyssenkrupp Representative Office
Nishi-ku, Yokohama 220-6011