U.S. President Joe Biden, left, stands next to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during their post-summit joint press conference in Tokyo, May 23, in this video still captured from YouTube.

SEOUL, South Korea —U.S. President Joe Biden promised to expand space cooperation with Japan and South Korea during back-to-back summits with the leaders of two East Asian allies.

During a May 23 summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, Biden agreed to work to put the first Japanese astronaut on the moon as part of the NASA-led Artemis program. In a May 21 summit with South Korea’s president Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul, Biden agreed to strengthen the alliance “across all sectors of space cooperation.”

In a joint statement issued following the May 23 summit, Biden and Kishida announced “progress in collaboration on the Artemis program,” including their “shared intention to include a Japanese astronaut on [the lunar] Gateway and on human and robotic lunar surface missions,” with a goal of signing an implementation agreement this year. 

The U.S.-Japan space cooperation is “taking off, looking towards the moon and to Mars,” Biden said at a post-summit press conference with Kishida, which was livestreamed on YouTube. “I’m excited about the work we will do together on the Gateway station around the moon and look forward to the first Japanese astronaut joining us in the mission to the lunar surface, under the Artemis program.” 

Kishida has made a priority of putting ‘Japanese boots on the moon’ since his inauguration in October. He revised Japan’s space policy roadmap to include the goal of landing a Japanese astronaut on the moon by the late 2020s. “We will promote the Artemis project to perform manned activities on the moon, and in the late 2020s, we will try to realize the lunar landing of Japanese astronauts,” the Japanese prime minister said during a Dec. 28 meeting of the Strategic Headquarters for Space Development. The revised roadmap also calls for cooperating with Japan’s private sector to develop crewed lunar rovers and other “systems that are essential for human activities on the moon.”

Prior to the Tokyo summit, Biden met with South Korean President Yoon in Seoul, where they agreed to strengthen cooperation in all space-related sectors. The two countries will flesh out the commitment in working-level dialogues by the end of the year.

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol ahead of their May 21 summit in Seoul, South Korea. Credit: The Presidential Office of South Korea

The pledge was part of a broader set of trade, security and technology agreements reached between the two leaders during the summit.

“President Yoon and President Biden commit to strengthening the ROK-U.S. alliance across all sectors of space cooperation,” they said in a joint statement issued after the summit, referring to South Korea’s official name, Republic of Korea. “Building on the ROK’s previous commitment to participate in the Artemis program, the two Presidents agreed to foster joint research in space exploration and to support the ROK’s development of the Korean Positioning System (KPS).” 

The two leaders also agreed to hold the 3rd U.S.-ROK Civil Space Dialogue by the end of the year to discuss concrete plans for cooperation in space exploration, navigation and policy. The two countries launched the dialogue in 2014, based on a decision made by the ROK-U.S. Joint Committee on Science and Technology Cooperation. The first round of the dialogue was held in Washington in July 2014, and the second round in Seoul in April 2016, both with officials from space agencies and related government bodies of both sides attending. The two sides discussed a range of issues, including space exploration, satellites, space environment, and space policy, through the channel, but for unknown reasons, it has remained dormant following the second meeting. 

“To hold the third [U.S.-ROK] civil space dialogue means that the two sides are committed to dealing with various space issues in an integrated manner,” An Hyoung-joon, a research fellow at Science and Technology Policy Institute, a state-funded think tank based in Sejong, told SpaceNews

On top of this, the two leaders said they were committed to “continue cooperation to ensure a safe, secure, and sustainable space environment including through the bilateral space policy dialogue and strengthen defense space partnerships including through joint exercises.” 

To discuss related issues, the U.S. State Department and South Korea’s foreign ministry will hold a fifth round of space policy dialogue in Seoul this year. The previous round was held last August in Washington, during which the two sides discussed issues to “enhance bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the field of space security.”

The U.S. and South Korea continue to get closer in space security and defense. In April, the two countries agreed to cooperate on space situational awareness (SSA) for military purposes. Under the agreement, Seoul and Washington will “share intelligence about outer space, nurture space experts through training and exercises, and enhance interoperability for combined space operations.”

In August, South Korea’s air force chief of staff, Gen. Park In-ho, and U.S. Space Force Gen. John W. Raymond, chief of space operations, signed a memorandum of understanding on forming a joint space policy consultative body at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Under the agreement, the two sides have run a joint consultative body on space policy, shared information on space surveillance and worked together to enhance joint space operations capabilities such as missile defense. In line with this, the South Korean air force decided to join U.S. Space Force-led joint military drills.

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...