— The last year was one of great strides for
‘s space program and ended with a glimmer of commercial promise, officials and observers here said. Most of
‘s contribution to the international space station finally reached orbit, and the country’s mainstay launch vehicle continued its run of consecutive successes.

But the most important event of the year, perhaps of the decade, occurred in May when Japan’s parliament, or Diet, passed the Basic Law for Space Activities, casting aside a 1969 resolution that committed the country to using space for peaceful purposes only, according to Takeo Kawamura, chief cabinet secretary of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the law’s principal architect.

In addition to allowing
to use space for defensive purposes in line with internationally accepted norms, the so-called Basic Law mandated a sweeping overhaul of
‘s space management structure, consolidating oversight into a single cabinet-level office called the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy (SHSP).

“It’s a Copernicus-like revolution,” Kawamura told Space News in a Dec. 8 interview. “The Basic Law passed this May … has ended space development simply limited to research and development and elevated it to playing a crucial role in contributing to our nation in the fields of space science, industrialization, diplomacy and security.”

Since May, due to Cabinet reshuffles,
has seen the appointment of consecutive State Ministers for Space and the first-ever request for a military space budget by the Ministry of Defense.

“Yes, without a doubt the most important event was … the establishment of the Basic Law and establishment of the SHSP, Kazuto Suzuki, associate professor of international political economy at Hokkaido University and an expert on Japanese space policy, said in a Dec. 8 interview.

still is developing the implementation plan, “things are moving very quickly these days. The politicians are already calling this year the ‘first year of the Basic Law,’” Suzuki said.

The year was also a watershed for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which finally saw its major human spaceflight activity come to fruition with the successful attachment of major elements of its Kibo module to the international space station in missions that featured starring roles for two of the country’s astronauts.

Previously known as the Japanese Experiments Module, Kibo consists of four main elements, the first of which, the Experiment Logistics Module, was launched in March by NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour carrying astronaut Takao Doi. In June, Space Shuttle Discovery, with JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide aboard, delivered Kibo’s main experiment module, known as the Pressurized Module, and the Remote Manipulator System.

“These missions were some of the most significant milestones in JAXA’s Japanese Experiment Module project, and with them utilization of Kibo was able to start,” JAXA Executive Director KuniakiShiraki said in a Dec. 9 interview.

The last elements of Kibo, the Exposed Facility external experiment platform and external stowage pallet, are to be delivered in a 2009 space shuttle mission. Prior to that mission, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata will fly to the space station and remain there three to four months to prepare for the final integration of Kibo.

Meanwhile, JAXA and
experienced a nearly flawless year in terms of mission performance. Ongoing missions of note include the Daichi land observing satellite, launched in January 2006, and Kaguya, a flagship-class lunar probe launched in September 2007. JAXA recently signed an agreement with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to monitor World Heritage Sites using Daichi.

Meanwhile, JAXA launched the Kizuna high-speed experimental communications satellite in February. That spacecraft during March and April transmitted data at speeds of 155 megabits per second to a 45-centimeter antenna and in May upped that rate to 1.2 gigabits per second to a 2.4-meter dish.

launched atop an H-2A rocket in that vehicle’s only mission of the year. It was the eighth consecutive success for H-2A since a 2003 failure that destroyed a pair of military reconnaissance satellites.

The year ended with some good news for
‘s attempts to commercialize its space industry; in early December, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. announced it had won an order to build the ST-2 communications satellite for a joint venture of Singapore-based SingTel and Chunghwa Telecom Co. of Taiwan. This was the first nondomestic order for Mitsubishi’s DS2000 satellite platform, which has been used for several Japanese government satellites and for Superbird-C2 for Sky Perfect JSAT Corp. of

Kawamura also noted that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been given preferential negotiating rights to launch
South Korea
‘s Kompsat-3 Earth observation satellite aboard an H-2A. If that deal goes forward, it would mark the first commercial launch by a Japanese rocket, demonstrating the growing maturity and acceptance of
‘s space technology, Kawamura said.

“The contracts … are big news because these are the first cases that Japanese companies earned the access to the commercial market,” Suzuki said.