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The Rise of Space Science in Japan

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The emergence of the climate change regime in the last decade has been in part sponsored by the atmospheric space monitoring missions of national space programs dedicated to tracking and recording carbon changes and the rising temperature on Earth. Japan’s Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite ‘IBUKI’ (GOSAT) launched by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is one of the preeminent remote sensing vehicles mandated to provide observation data on the density of carbon dioxide to the Japanese space administration toward interpretation in simulation.

The seriousness of global warming as described in the Kyoto Protocol ratified in 1997, articulates the urgent response measures designed to reduce GHG emissions within the atmosphere. By 2008, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) furthered those goals in response to the monitoring missions of GOSAT and other public-private partnerships (PPP) in space elsewhere. Collaboration on the JAXA carbon monitoring mission has been conducted in participation by US NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in conjunction with its Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) program.

Analysis and dissemination from the GOSAT mission is the lead in interpretation of atmospheric transformation with the most precise information on CO2 photosynthesis. GOSAT findings will contribute to climate research in the future in partnership with the proposed Global Climate Observation System (GCOS) through the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to advance international cooperation in observation of changes to land, ocean, and space.  

Japan’s recent entrance into space as a unified national program made GOSAT and other missions like the Advanced Land Observing Satellite ‘DAICHI’ (ALOS) possible. Prior to 2003, much of Japan’s atmospheric and outer space launches were conducted in partnership with commercial partners, mostly US based aerospace companies (i.e. Northrup Grumman). While this is also quite typical of NASA’s civil space administration programming, the redirection of Japan’s interest toward consolidation of NASDA, ISAS and NAL into a combined agency in October of 2003 set the pace for the future of Japan’s satellite activities with JAXA. Efficiency cited as the core priority to consolidation of the various space agencies by the Ministry of Finance, merger of those bodies was a projected annual savings of 10 billion yen. Japan’s satellite reconnaissance program is currently run from the Cabinet Secretariat under technical oversight by JAXA.

The formation of JAXA provided scientists with opportunities not readily designed into strategic competencies prior to the unified organizational structure. Amalgamation of interests in research and engineered innovation and execution of existing and new missions under JAXA took over the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science and Institute of Space Technology and Aeronautics capacity in joint supervision of former NASDA, Office of Space Flight and Operations and the Office of Space Applications – all which remain largely intact within JAXA. The unification decision also opened up opportunities for other national space agencies on important missions through integrated knowledge sharing and better synergy in resources and talent on new missions.

Some inquire: in a country well known for scientific and technological aptitude, why the late entrance of Japan in the space sector? Some point to the politics of space investigation, as much of what took place in international endeavors prior to the 1990s was built through the US and USSR Cold War space race initiatives. For many, the commencement of Japan's space program began in 1957 with the success launch of a two-staged solid-fuel sounding rocket, Kappa 3. A ‘radical’ achievement within aeronautics at the time, Japan's space goals were put on the map in ambitions that would ultimately make it the major space power in Asia.

Since 1969, Japan’s attainment of space goals evidences the propensity of knowledge to rule over politics. The sheer efficacy of Japanese space research capacity and advanced technological command over remote sensing has increased the criticalness of the nation’s efforts in international space exploration. The exponential rise of the country to leadership in carbon research, for example, in a much shorter period of time than other space agencies supports this claim. By 1994, Japan had several manned spaceflight programs, and a number of satellite missions in successful history of launch.

Continuation of the tradition of cooperation in JAXA’s missions extends to its involvement in the International Space Station (ISS).  ISS scheduled completion in 2011 will continue in operation to 2015, and is the result of joint agreement with the Canadian, European, Japanese, Russian and United States space agencies.  In the next four years, JAXA will serve in a more central role in vital maintenance and operations of the ISS. JAXA commanded, unmanned resupply craft or Kounotori freighters, known as H-2 Transfer Vehicles (HTVs) were launched successfully with the HTV 1 11 September  2009; and more recently with the HTV 2 on 29 March 2011.  

The general shift in space operations to commercial endeavors in the next few years will open up new inroads for Japan’s scientific efforts. Politics still prevail in regulatory restrictions however, and trade agreement constraints presented in future PPP activities with corporate aerospace firms will inevitably be subject to issues of monopoly and protectionism outside of Japan; precluding bid by Japanese suppliers on external public-private contracts (i.e. US government payloads). 

If JAXA’s primary interests are tracking programs in astrobiology and defense, the trajectory where the most growth is within private sector space in Japan is in the multi-billion dollar international commercial communications and remote sensing satellite industry. This reflects the general shift in space activities across the board, and goals of the Japanese space program follow this classificatory designation in short term and long term strategy. The short term goal is to increase the scope and capabilities in commercial utility of Japan’s existing missions; whereas the long term goal is to attain self-sufficiency in the face of deeper commercial privatization in the future of space. Those goals run parallel to the legacy of the space agencies in Japan, and the constructive use of space technologies in pursuit of national autonomy in excellence in space science and diplomacy.

The recent Earth based disaster of the earthquake and nuclear incident impacting JAXA’s functionary interests should prove interesting in retrospect. From a scientific point-of-view, the utility of space technologies in analysis of irradiation, for example, will provide important data on atmospheric photosynthesis. If Japan’s capabilities are sometime restricted to its own national market in aerospace projects, the possibility of external force is located in the ability of Japanese space scientists to stay ahead of their colleagues in research and analysis – turning detriment into opportunity in the most ‘global’ economy of scale.

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