Japan Urged To Break up JAXA and Establish New Space Agency

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TOKYO — A report delivered April 20 to the head of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism — the nation’s policy lead for space — is recommending the government break up the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and establish a new space agency within the prime minister’s cabinet by August.

The five-page report, “Suggestions for Japan’s Strategic Space Policy,” advises that the new unnamed agency be controlled by a small executive committee of around five experts reporting directly to Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his top cabinet official for space policy, Seiji Maehara, the 48-year-old minister for land, infrastructure, transport and tourism. Critically, the new agency would centralize control of program management and budgeting for all of Japan’s taxpayer-funded space programs, Takafumi Matsui, chairman of the advisory committee that wrote the report, told Space News.

In an April 27 interview, Matsui said the report, which was requested by Maehara in February, will serve as a key planning document for government officials seeking to overhaul Japan’s space program to make it more responsive to national needs.

Policy making and budget authority for Japan’s publicly funded space activities was split between competing ministries following a series of administrative reforms beginning in the late 1990s.

Currently, policy and planning is the responsibility of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism while the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) oversees Japan’s space budget. Further complicating matters, JAXA is a so-called Independent Administrative Institution (IAI), semi-autonomous entities Japan created in 1998 during reforms that kept government ministries in charge of policy and planning while transferring operating functions to IAIs empowered to act more like private corporations.

JAXA, which was created in 2003 through the merger of three separate organizations, reports to MEXT, not the space policy planners at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Matsui said Japan needs to radically and rapidly reform its space development activities in line with the electoral mandate of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which swept to power in August 2009 promising to establish political control over Japan’s bureaucracy.

“This is a revolutionary scheme that says we [the political leadership advised by specialists and the user community] will make the plan and they [the bureaucracy] will just implement the projects,” he said.

The changes recommended in the report also are meant to respond to legislation, known as the Basic Law for Space Activities, that Japan’s Diet passed in 2008 requiring the government to institute cabinet-controlled management of the nation’s space programs.

The report specifically recommends that the new agency be lean, and that it be formed before Japan’s 2011 space budget request is submitted to the finance ministry this August, said Shinichi Nakasuka, vice chairman of the advisory committee and professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Tokyo.

“We strongly feel that we should establish an effective organization as soon as possible … in time for the Japanese financial plan for fiscal 2011,” Nakasuka said in an April 25 interview.

Matsui said JAXA needs to be broken up into smaller units, and reorganized into project groups focused on specific objectives, Matsui said. In particular, Matsui said he favors the re-establishment of an organization focused on space-based science and astronomy similar to the old Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, which was merged into JAXA in 2003.

John Logsdon, a long-time observer of Japanese space policy issues and professor at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute in Washington, said the report is the latest attempt to make the Japanese space effort more relevant to the country’s economic and security interests.

“The idea is to get at least most of the space effort out from under the control of the [research and development]-oriented ministry, MEXT, and to focus that effort on projects driven by industry interests in selling space systems and services to global markets and by a desire to develop space capabilities relevant to Japanese security interests,” Logsdon said April 28. “This is a fundamental shift in emphasis, and is likely to be resisted by the engineering-oriented staff of JAXA and the MEXT officials to whom JAXA reports. It’s not clear that the DPJ is strong enough politically to push through such a change before elections this year.”

Matsui agreed that adoption of the report’s recommendations is not assured. He said how many of the report’s recommendations will be implemented depends on how much political support the minister can muster within the Democratic Party of Japan. Matsui estimated the chances of the recommendations being implemented as “better than 50/50.”