Japan budgets a record $4.14 billion for space activities

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SEOUL, South Korea — In response to the reignited global space race, Japan is planning a record space budget of 449.6 billion yen ($4.14 billion) in the fiscal year 2021, up 23.1 percent over the current fiscal year that ends March 30, according to draft budget documents. 

Japan’s proposed space budget, which encompasses planned space activities of 11 government ministries, includes 51.4 billion yen ($472 million) set aside for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to participate in NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, 18.9 billion yen for the development and advancement of the H3 rocket, and 80 billion yen for the nation’s Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) program, according to the documents. 

Japan is also planning to expand the Space Operations Squadron, a new space defense unit under the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, launched with 20 members in May 2020 to monitor and counter threats to Japan’s satellites, with its total budget undisclosed in the documents. The squadron will undergo a restructuring this year to add 50 more members and “carry out various planning and execution of activities in outer space,” the documents state. 

The 449.6 billion yen for space activities was approved March 2 by Japan’s House of Representatives as part of a broader 106.6 trillion yen ($979 billion) initial general-account budget for fiscal 2021. The budget bill is now on the table of the House of Councillors, waiting for its final endorsement, according to Kyodo News Agency. 

JAXA

Nearly half the space budget, or 212.4 billion yen, is set to go to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which controls JAXA.

Of 51.4 billion yen earmarked to fund Japan’s participation in the NASA’s Artemis program, 37 billion yen will be used to develop a new space station resupply vehicle dubbed HTV-X. Some 6.1 billion yen will be used to develop technologies for the lunar Gateway, a planned small space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a solar-powered communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module and holding area for rovers and other robots.

The budget documents also state while 3.4 billion yen will be used to develop the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a lunar lander being developed by JAXA, 2.8 billion yen will be invested in the Lunar Polar Exploration (LUPEX), a joint project between JAXA and its Indian counterpart, the Indian Space Research Organisation, aimed at exploring the moon’s south pole in 2023.

Besides 18.9 billion yen for the H3 rocket, the education ministry will spend 5 billion yen to sharpen Japan’s technological competitiveness, including:

  • 4.5 billion yen to develop Engineering Test Satellite-9
  • 200 million yen for research and development of future space transportation systems
  • 300 million yen for technologies that streamline the development cycle of microsatellites

IGS and SSA

After JAXA’s parent ministry, Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat claims the second biggest slice of the space budget, or 80 billion yen, the documents show. And the money will go solely to “the development and operation of an IGS,” the documents stated without further explanation. 

Japan has launched more than a dozen optical and radar spy satellites under the IGS program since 2003. The most recent of those satellites, IGS-Optical 7, launched in February 2020 on an H-2A rocket. The program was started in response to North Korea’s launch of a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998 and is under the direct control of the cabinet. 

The Ministry of Defense represents the third biggest slice of Japan’s 2021 space budget, or 55.3 billion yen. Much of it will go toward the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ efforts to stand up full-scale Space Situational Awareness (SSA) operations in 2023 in cooperation with the United States. Specifically, the ministry intends to spend 28.8 billion yen in the year ahead on efforts to track objects in orbit and predict where they will be at any given time.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense published this Space Situational Awareness (SSA) graphic on its Japan Defense Focus website in July 2020

The Ministry of Defense outlined its SSA plans last year following the formal launch of the Space Operations Squadron as the “first space domain mission unit” of Japan’s armed forces. 

In an article the ministry published in July 2020 on its Japan Defense Focus website, the ministry said Japan’s mid-term defense program calls for taking steps “to ensure superiority in use of space at all stages from peacetime to armed contingencies. Among the planned steps:

  • Establishing an SSA system in order to secure the stable use of space;
  • Improving various capabilities that leverage space domain including information-gathering, communication and positioning capabilities,
  • Building the capability to disrupt the C4I (command, control, communication, computer, and intelligence) of opponents with combined use of the electromagnetic domain;
  • Work[ing] to enhance cooperation with relevant agencies, including JAXA, and with the United States and other relevant countries.