U.S., Japan To Explore Space Surveillance Data Sharing

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WASHINGTON — The United States and Japan will jointly develop a framework for sharing space surveillance data as part of expanded space-related ties between the countries, the White House announced April 30.

Tokyo and Washington also will pursue an international code of conduct designed in part to build trust among spacefaring nations, the White House said following a meeting here between U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. The White House earlier this year announced it would pursue the code of conduct similar to, but less restrictive than, the code proposed a few years ago by the European Union.

“The United States and Japan consider the sustainability, stability, and free access to and use of space vital to our national interests,” the White House said, laying out several cooperative initiatives in both civil and national security space.

It was not clear from the White House statement what the next steps will be in negotiating a framework for sharing space surveillance data.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom), was given limited authority in November to negotiate space situational awareness data sharing arrangements with allies. Previously that authority resided with the U.S. secretary of defense. The Stratcom commander would first negotiate with a specific country before requesting authority from the U.S. State and Defense departments to formally conclude an agreement, according to Kehler.

Kazuto Suzuki, a professor of international political policy for Hokkaido University Public Policy School in Sapporo, Japan, said the agreement to explore space situational awareness data sharing is a “great step forward” in space cooperation between the countries. The political conditions for additional work are great right now, he said.

The two sides have discussed a framework for transmitting data from Japan’s space-surveillance radar system to the U.S. Defense Department’s Joint Space Operations Center (Jspoc), the nerve center for U.S. military space activity, Suzuki said. In exchange, Japan would receive information from the Jspoc beyond what is made available today, he said.

Suzuki said he was not aware if that specific scenario was part of the agreement that was announced April 30.

Jspoc is responsible for space traffic management and in-orbit collision avoidance, launch support and other activities.

The United States and Japan also agreed to extend international space station operations beyond 2016, one of several areas of increased civil space cooperation between the countries, the White House said. These include interoperability between Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System and the U.S. GPS satellite navigation systems and expanded use of space-based systems for environmental monitoring, the statement said.

“The United States and Japan are to enhance our space dialogue with the engagement of all the relevant Ministries and Agencies to ensure a whole-of-government approach to space matters and space cooperation addressing environmental research, scientific discovery, national and international security, and economic growth,” the White House said.

The U.S. National Security Space Strategy, released in January 2011, calls for increased partnerships with other nations.