TOKYO — Japan is set to end legal restrictions on the nation’s main space agency so that it can participate in military space development, following recommendations from a top government panel.

The Special Advisory Committee of the Strategic Headquarters for Space Policy (SHSP) also approved key changes that will fundamentally alter the management of Japan’s space program.

A senior government official familiar with the decision said the recommendations mean the SHSP is now drafting several pieces of legislation for Japan’s Diet that should be passed as early as April or as late as July, when the upcoming Diet session ends. The first item is to amend the law governing the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The official said the legislation will amend Article 4 of the law governing JAXA, drafted in 2003, deleting the stipulation that the agency pursues space development “for peaceful purposes only,” and as such will bring it in line with the Basic Space Law of May 2008.

The Basic Law overturned a 1960s-era resolution that Japan’s space development be for peaceful purposes only, but had excepted JAXA.

The official said the proposed law will bring JAXA under Article 2 of the Basic Law that space development be “in accordance with the pacifism of the Constitution of Japan,” and Article 14, “The State shall take the necessary measures to promote space development and use to endure international peace and security as well as to contribute to the national security of Japan.”

The change in effect brings JAXA in line with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which allows for the non-aggressive/defensive use of military space and prohibits the deployment of weapons of mass destruction, the official said. The new legislation will bring JAXA in line with the Basic Law and international conventions, the official said.

Takafumi Matsui, deputy chairman of the SHSP’s Special Advisory Committee, said the committee also recommended a major administrative change that requires new legislation to establish political control of Japan’s space strategy. This legislation will be submitted along with the proposed change in JAXA’s law.

Currently, Japan’s space development is controlled by a hodgepodge of competing ministries, with no centralized administrative leadership. For example, JAXA’s policies are controlled by two ministries: the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). Yet Japan’s reconnaissance satellites are controlled by a different part of the bureaucracy.

The proposed legislation would put the Cabinet Office in control of Japan’s space planning and budget, Matsui said. The Cabinet Office would set up a Strategic Space Office and a Strategic Space Development Commission, probably of five members, who would have overall control of space policy and report directly to the prime minister, Matsui said.

Matsui said the recent decision was the final step in three and a half years of negotiations among several of Japan’s government ministries about how to implement the Basic Law. That law had mandated Cabinet Office control of Japan’s space development and the establishment of a space agency to streamline decision-making and allow Japan to shift its focus away from space science and technological development to commercialization and national security. But the movement had been stymied by MEXT and MIC, which opposed loss of control of JAXA.

As a partial solution, the Special Advisory Committee last September recommended that the Cabinet Office take control of the development Japan’s new regional GPS system, called the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, parts of which were being independently financed under budget lines by several competing ministries.

Under the legislation being drawn up, most of Japan’s ministries will still have a say in the Cabinet Office’s policymaking proposals, but ultimate control will be in the hands of the new commission, “a sort of grand compromise,” the government official said.

Insiders are divided as to how much the legislation will accelerate Japan’s military space development amid the pull and push of different priorities and strong institutional reticence in Japan to militarize.

The Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies, which represents the country’s space and aerospace community, is lobbying the government to develop a range of reconnaissance and early warning satellites for missile defense. The Ministry of Defense in 2009 drew up a long shopping list of potential military space needs, including spy, early warning, communications and signals intelligence satellites, and space situational awareness and defensive counterspace technologies.

But facing a flat budget and a lack of human resources, the Ministry of Defense has put such items on the back burner, sources said.

Given JAXA’s long institutional commitment to research and development of only peaceful space technologies, change could come slowly, said Hiroaki Akiyama, director of the Institute for Education on Space at Wakayama University, and a close watcher of the SHSP’s moves.

JAXA itself commands the largest chunk of Japan’s space spending; Its fiscal 2012 budget included 173 billion yen ($2.3 billion) out of the 297 billion yen Japan will spend on space this year. And JAXA has been responsible for developing a wide range of dual-use technologies.

Removing its peaceful purposes-only mandate, Matsui said, will make it easier for Japan to develop military space programs, as it could open up the technical knowledge and human resources available in the agency.



Japan To Boost Military Space Spending in 2012

Japan’s Latest Political Shake-up Stirs Hope for Space Agency Overhaul 

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...