Japan’s Space Program

A Fork in the Road?

by Steven Berner

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Abstract

In 1969, Japan had not yet successfully launched a satellite. By 1994, it was an emerging space power. The National Space Development Agency (NASDA) had launched 30 rockets without a failure, and had a string of successes with its satellites. It was developing the indigenous H-2 launcher that would allow Japan to compete in the international launch-services market. NASDA was a significant player in international space activities, having flown its first astronaut on the space shuttle in 1992, and having development responsibility for the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) for the International Space Station. The Institute for Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) had successfully developed a family of smaller solid propellant launchers and, on a budget of approximately 20 to 25 billion yen (about $200 million), was developing an international reputation for its space science program. Japanese industry was consistently increasing its role as a subcontractor in international procurements of communications satellites. Ten years later, the Japanese space program may be undergoing a crisis of confidence. NASDA has had a succession of satellite and launcher failures. ISAS’ Mars probe, Nozomi, failed to reach orbit around Mars. Japanese companies have yet to compete successfully as prime contractors in the international satellite communications market. The space program has been reorganized, a new Japanese space policy is emerging, and Japan has launched its first military and intelligence reconnaissance satellites. What has brought about these changes? Is Japan’s space program confronting a crisis, or is it just experiencing the growing pains that all space programs at some point must confront? And what future directions might the Japanese space program take? This paper addresses these questions. It briefly reviews the history of Japan’s space program. It explores the program’s organization and its recent changes. It reviews the origins and status of Japan’s satellite reconnaissance program. It then examines several factors affecting Japan’s space program. Finally, it explores possible directions the program may take in the next several years.

The research described in this report was carried out within the Intelligence Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division, which conducts research and analysis for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy, the U.S. intelligence community, allied foreign governments, and foundations.

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