– Japan’s parliament, or Diet, has passed into law a measure that sweeps aside a 40-year national ban on using space for military purposes and |.

realigns the government apparatus for space policymaking and planning, according to proponents of the legislation.


The Basic Law for Space Activities, passed by the Lower House the week of May 12, was approved by the Upper House by a 221-14 vote May 21. It commits Japan to a series of major administrative and conceptual changes, shifting emphasis from research and development to utilization and defense, and placing space development planning under the prime minister, according to Kazuto Suzuki, an associate professor at the University of Tsukuba and an expert on space policy.


“It’s a revolution. This will change the whole structure of, and the thinking behind, Japan’s space activities,” Suzuki, one of the architects of the legislation, said in a May 21 interview.


The law commits Japan to setting up a brand new planning and administrative authority in the prime minister’s cabinet office under a new minister for space appointed by and reporting directly to the prime minister. The law scraps the 1969 resolution – which was tacked onto the law that created Japan’s space agency – that restricted Japan to using space only for peaceful purposes. It replaces that with a commitment that military uses of space will be for defensive purposes only in accordance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and with the pacifist spirit of Japan’s constitution, Suzuki said.


Although Japan’s longstanding ban on military space activity was considered legally binding, in fact it has eroded in recent years, most notably with the launch of a series of so-called Information Gathering Satellites to keep tabs on neighbors including North Korea. The new law opens the door to more such programs.


Until now, Japan’s fundamental space planning has been conducted mainly by the Space Activities Commission in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), and has focused on research and technology development even while Japan has felt increasingly threatened by its neighbors. North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japanese territory in 1998, for example, and China has been flexing its muscles in space, last year testing an anti-satellite weapon.


Under the new law, the Space Activities Commission will become a technical oversight committee, while MEXT will be stripped of its budget coordination role. The budget request for the fiscal year that starts in April 2009, to be released in August, will be coordinated through an interim group in the cabinet office if the new planning body has yet to be fully established, Suzuki said.


switch of space planning
from MEXT to the prime minister’s office
underscores a shift
in attitude about the strategic importance of space
national security and public welfare, said Kenichi Kawamura, a staffer for Takeo Kawamura, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s chairman for
development and
major proponent
of the new law.

“In any other country in the world, space is considered to be a strategic political matter but in Japan space has been controlled by JAXA,” Kawamura said in a May 21 interview, referring to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, a civil agency focused on research and development. “This law places Japan’s space policy within the context of a national strategy. This is supported by many in the Liberal Democratic Party, especially with the emergence of China as a space power. Unless something is done, China will overtake Japan in space in the next decade.”


The Ministry of Defense initially might use its new ability to propose its own missions to request a missile early warning satellite to support Japan’s participation in the U.S. ballistic missile defense effort, and one or more dedicated geostationary communications satellites, Suzuki said. Until now, Japan’s military has had to rely on commercial communications satellites, he said.


Because the law was passed in the current Upper House session, which ends in June, the Ministry of Defense has enough time to incorporate space programs into its next five-year Mid-Term Defense Plan, which begins in 2010, Suzuki said. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda may appoint an interim minister for space by the end of June.


Satoshi Tsuzukibashi, deputy director of the Office of the Defense Production Committee at the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, welcomed the passing of the law with its emphasis on promoting utilization projects.


“Today is one of the memorial days for us to enter into a new Japanese space era. We needed a framework to facilitate Japan’s space utilization and to integrate many policies performed by many ministries into a national strategy under strong leadership,” Tsuzukibashi said in a May 21 interview.


Keidanren, Japan’s most powerful industrial and business lobbying organization, has been pressing the Japanese government to invest more in space activities for over a decade. The law could make more funding available for application-oriented space programs in general, he said. As an example, Tsuzukibashi cited the possibility of Japan fielding a constellation of disaster warning and monitoring satellites.

Kawamura said
budget for space science missions, as opposed to technology demonstrations, also could benefit from the new law. Funding for space science

traditionally has accounted for only about 10 percent
of Japan’s roughly $2.5 billion annual space budget, but this could
over the next five years
in recognition of this program’s
ability to achieve successful and innovative missions at comparatively low costs, Kawamura said.