Japan Boosts Space Spending
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center image/SpaceNews graphic

TOKYO — In support of a new space policy that places security as top priority for the next decade, Japan’s Finance Ministry has approved a combined space budget of 324.5 billion yen ($2.75 billion) for fiscal year 2015, an 18.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year that ends March 30.

The budget, which encompasses the space activity of 11 government ministries, includes sharp rises for two national security-related projects, according to budget documents released Jan. 26 by the Office of National Space Policy (ONSP). The office was set up within the prime minister’s Cabinet office in 2012 to give more political control of Japan’s space program and stop interministry turf wars.

Quasi-Zenith satellite. Credit: JAXA/Mitsubishi Electric Co.
The Cabinet office will receive 22.3 billion yen for space activities, a rise of 68 percent, with most of the funding going toward building out Japan’s seven-satellite Quasi-Zenith regional navigation system (above). Credit: JAXA/Mitsubishi Electric Co.

The Cabinet office will receive 22.3 billion yen for space activities, a rise of 68 percent, with most of the funding going toward building out Japan’s seven-satellite Quasi-Zenith regional navigation system. The Cabinet secretariat, also closely affiliated with the prime minister’s office, and which controls the nation’s fleet of reconnaissance satellites, will receive 69.7 billion yen, a 14 percent boost. The four-satellite Information Gathering Satellite constellation is primarily tasked to monitor North Korean missile sites.

The education ministry, which controls the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, represents the largest share of the total 2015 space budget at 182 billion yen, a 19 percent rise from the present year. This includes a 5.5 billion yen increase, to 12.5 billion yen, for development of the H-3 rocket to replace the nation’s current workhorse, the reliable but expensive H-2A, in 2020.

The JAXA budget also includes money for three new projects: a next-generation data relay satellite to cope with growing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance traffic; an advanced optical imaging satellite that will carry a ballistic missile early warning sensor as a hosted payload in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense; and an effort to develop a new line of 150-kilogram multipurpose satellites that can be rapidly built and adapted to a range of missions.

The budget increases reflect a new consensus within the government that it must integrate space policy with national security and in support of the U.S.-Japan security alliance. This new direction was mandated by Japan’s first National Security Strategy, drawn up in December 2013, and further solidified in the second Japan-U.S. Comprehensive Dialogue on Space in Washington the following May, where both sides agreed to boost cooperation in national security space, particularly for space and maritime surveillance.

The ONSP cemented this new direction Jan. 9 with the publication of the third iteration of the Basic Plan, a 10-year roadmap that supports the space industry by guaranteeing a steady flow of work, according to Space Policy Commissioner Hiroshi Yamakawa, one of the plan’s authors. The plan for the first time lays out program and satellite launch schedules out to around 2025.


“The biggest change is the focus on space security,” Yamakawa said in an interview. “It was also really important for us to set up a concrete schedule. The Ministry of Finance has allowed us to show the launch year of every satellite [and program], and it has never allowed such a concrete level before. This really shows predictability, which helps industry.”

The latest Basic Plan departs from previous policy in using direct language describing national security objectives and issues. It names China for the first time as a destabilizing factor in global security, citing China’s 2007 direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon test, and subsequent activities such as jamming and laser blinding experiments, as examples.

“There is a new paradigm in Japan where space policy is concerned, and it is all about national security. … This is a profound change, especially because it is now official and being driven by the highest echelons of government,” said Saadia Pekkanen, an adjunct professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, who follows Japan’s space program.

But the new policy also pulls back from commitments recommended by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in August 2014, particularly to more than double the size of the Information Gathering Satellite fleet to 10 satellites and work toward setting up an overarching agency with budgetary authority for all space programs, regardless of the ministry in which they reside.

Also, there is no explicit route to increasing the annual space budget to 500 billion yen, largely to pay for new national security programs, as recommended by the LDP. For example, the latest plan only promises to study how Japan can improve both its space situational awareness and maritime domain awareness capabilities over the next two years, without committing to funding satellites.

Nonetheless, Satoshi Tsuzukibashi, director of the Office of Defense Production at the Japan Business Federation, Japan’s most powerful industry group, welcomed the new Basic Plan as a step in the right direction. He said industry interprets the fine print of the policy as signaling that future budget roadmaps are revisable upward rather than downward.

“The number of reconnaissance satellites will rise — it’s a question of when and how many. A number of programs such as [Maritime Domain Awareness] are under two-year review. The issue is finishing the reviews and not delaying them,” Tsuzukibashi said.

Christopher Hughes, an expert on the Japanese military at the University of Warwick in Britain, said the budget leaves open questions about certain long-term priorities, which he characterized as typical given the many and often competing interests involved. “However, overall the big take-home message is that Japan is increasingly placing national strategic military concerns at the forefront of the rationale for investing in space capabilities,” he said.


A graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where he won the Horgan Prize for Excellence in Science Writing, Paul Kallender-Umezu is co-author of “In Defense of Japan: From the Market to the Military in Space Policy” (Stanford University...