passed legislation May 23 that commits the government to fund the initial satellite in a planned GPS augmentation system whose development has floundered amid a dispute over which agency would pay for the effort.
However, the future of the Quazi Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) remains uncertain because the law only covers the first of what are supposed to be three spacecraft, according to observers.
The Fundamental Law on the Promotion of Geospatial Information Activities
commits four government ministries, led
by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), to a 75 billion yen ($619
million) program to develop and launch a 4-ton
no later than March 31, 2010, according to documents supplied to Space News by Toshihiro Matsui, director of MEXT’s Space Utilization Division.
The spacecraft would be built by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which falls under the authority of MEXT.
The legislation, for now, ends
a four-year dispute between MEXT, three other government ministries, and an industry consortium over funding responsibility for the system,
said Satoshi Tsukibashi, deputy director of Space and Technology Policy at the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, Japan’s largest and most powerful business lobby.
Under an agreement hammered out in the face of the new law, MEXT will take the lead and provide most of the funding for the initial satellite, with the other ministries taking a smaller role, officials here said.
Originally proposed in 2001 by Keidanren
as a public-private
, QZSS is
envisioned as a constellation of three satellites flying in highly elliptical orbits providing GPS signals refined to an accuracy measured in centimeters as well as broadcast communications services.
The new legislation
formally defines the government’s commitment to developing the first satellite, overcoming the impasse for now,
said in a May 23 interview
“The passing of the law …
is very useful and effective for the promotion of the QZSS because it makes the positioning by satellites one of the important means for creating and widening electronic maps,” Tsukibashi said. “It will pro
ote research and development of the first satellite by legal requirement with a fixed timetable. The Japanese government is [now] legally obliged to press ahead with research and development.”
director of the Satellite Positioning Research Center, a non
profit corporation created in February to promote QZSS private-sector applications,
law’s passage “significant.” He said
it commits the government to developing a
timing infrastructure, leaving the private sector to develop experimental commercial applications such as highly accurate personal navigation services.
The law is seen as a
positive step by the private sector, which has been unwilling
to invest significant sums in a venture that was viewed as increasingly risky,
The original QZSS industry consortium, known as the Advanced Space Business Corp.,
ruled out investing in system
development and applications
without the government paying for the first
satellite. This was
after an internal study completed
in March 2006 raised doubts about the system’s viability as a money-making business. At the time, Kimura was president and chief executive of the consortium, which has since been disbanded.
initial QZSS satellite, which is under critical design review, will be built by Japan’s space agency
based on a DS2000 satellite frame supplied by Mitsubshi Electric Corp. of Tokyo,
with many of the payload systems supplied by NEC Toshiba Space Systems Ltd. of Yokohama, Kimura said.
While the new law
commits the government to cover
the development and launch of the first satellite, plus
a period of on-orbit testing, the funding picture for the
other two satellites remains unclear, according to Kazuto Suzuki,
professor at the University of Tsukuba’s Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
“The idea of setting up a new law on geographical information is a deliberate attempt to make QZSS reasonable,” Suzuki said in a May 22 e-mail.
“It would force ministries to comply with the law, and therefore it would overcome the inter-ministerial conflicts. However, it is not certain that
this law will work.”
Suzuki said the law
to develop the first satellite as a research and development project, which is within its mandate.
But as the measure
does not specify how funding is shared
for the follow-on satellites, and this
almost inevitably will become the subject of more argument in the future, he predicted.
“I don’t think this law would free them from the mess. It will show a clearer path, but whether the QZSS story will follow as the law designed depends on the [government] people,” he said.