U.S.-Japan signing ceremony
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi shake hands after signing a space cooperation framework agreement Jan. 13 at NASA Headquarters. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

WASHINGTON — The United States and Japan signed an agreement Jan. 13 to enable further cooperation between the two countries in space exploration, but without announcing any new initiatives.

During a brief ceremony at NASA Headquarters attended by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and other officials, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed the framework agreement with his Japanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.

“The U.S.-Japan space cooperation has entered a new era with the Artemis project, and many projects, including lunar activities, are already in the works by Japanese and U.S. astronauts,” Kishida said through a translator at the ceremony. “I strongly hope that this agreement will robustly promote our space cooperation even further and also further expand the field of cooperation under the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

Neither the U.S. nor the Japanese governments released the text of the agreement itself, titled “Framework Agreement Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America for Cooperation in Space Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, For Peaceful Purposes.” NASA, in a statement about the agreement, described it as covering “a broad swath of joint activities between the countries,” such as aeronautics, space science and exploration.

The United States and Canada signed an agreement with a similar name — Framework Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America for Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes — in 2009. That agreement established what it described as an “overall legal framework to facilitate the conclusion of implementing arrangements for cooperation” between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency.

“The Framework Agreement that we’re about to sign will take our cooperation to new heights,” Blinken said at the ceremony. “It’ll strengthen our partnership in areas like research on space technology and transportation, robotic lunar surface missions, climate-related missions and our shared ambition to see a Japanese astronaut on the lunar surface.”

Hayashi said he expected the agreement to cover future cooperation between the two countries on Artemis, including Japanese plans to develop a pressurized rover for later missions. “With the conclusion of this agreement between our two countries, numerous cooperative projects,” he said, “will be conducted efficiently.”

None of the officials at the event announced any specific new cooperative projects enabled by the agreement. NASA and the Japanese government signed an agreement in November finalizing Japan’s contributions to the lunar Gateway that also confirmed Japan would participate in the International Space Station through 2030. As part of the agreement, NASA will fly a Japanese astronaut to the Gateway on a future Artemis mission.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at the ceremony that he and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy would travel to Japan in February “to grow the bond between NASA and JAXA.” He did not elaborate on his plans for that trip.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...