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Entering The "Race"?

Speaking of international space programs, here's a news story claiming that Japan is going to establish a lunar base.

I don't know how seriously to take it. It could just be a trial balloon by an agency official. But they don't seem to be in any big rush about it.

Japan's space agency, JAXA, is drawing up plans to develop a robot to conduct probes on the moon by 2015, then begin constructing a solar-powered manned research base on the planet and design a reusable manned space vessel like the U.S. space shuttle by 2025.

This was interesting too:

Long Asia's leading spacefaring nation, Japan has been struggling to get out from under the shadow of China, which put its first astronaut into orbit in October 2003. Beijing has since announced it is aiming for the moon.

Some people think that China's sending a man into space has kicked off a new space race with us. It may have kicked off a new space race, but the competitors will be Japan and India. And perhaps South Korea (if they can afford in the face of what's almost certain to be a messy collapse north of their border).

The Japanese program has always been a derivative of NASA's--the H2 is a knockoff of the Delta, and this talk about their own "Space Shuttle" is just more of that. I'll take all of these countries seriously when I see significant creativity, and private space activity, and not just government chest thumping.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 28, 2005 11:22 AM
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The Japanese space agencies, JAXA and NASDA, have all of the problems of institutional bureaucracy as does NASA. I do not expect anything to come of this anouncement. Nor do I expect much to come of the Chinese space program.

Posted by Kurt at February 28, 2005 12:17 PM

there is actually significant private involvement in japanese space activities ISAS RVT ( a DC-X clone ) for instance was partly funded by IHI from what i can tell. For another good example:

Posted by kert at February 28, 2005 12:27 PM

It's pretty clear that it's going to come down to a neck-to-neck race between Brazil and Indonesia. Why can't other ppl see it this clearly? :-)

Posted by Karl Hallowell at February 28, 2005 01:20 PM

"The Japanese program has always been a derivative of NASA's--the H2 is a knockoff of the Delta."

Incorrect. The Japanese N-1 (now retired) was a license built Delta. The current H-II is an indigenous design:

And it is not really fair to say that the Japanese program has been derivative of NASA. They have many unique projects that have nothing to do with NASA. Applications satellites, primarily, but their own.

As for the article, it is based upon a newspaper article and not anything from the Japanese space agency itself. Considering Japan's past and present space priorities, it is unlikely that this is going to happen. Applications spacecraft dominate their priorities.

Posted by Kevin Lansing at February 28, 2005 02:58 PM

You're right, Kevin, I was thinking H1. Nonetheless, I consider their program as derivative of NASA's in the sense that they think they're going to get to space using government bureaucracies.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 28, 2005 03:07 PM

" the sense that they think they're going to get to space using government bureaucracies."

That makes them no more "derivative" of NASA than any other major space program. And right now their interests are primarily applications satellites (remote sensing) and some science. And for that, a government bureaucracy has worked for them.

Posted by Kevin Lansing at February 28, 2005 03:13 PM

That makes them no more "derivative" of NASA than any other major space program.

And no less. And it wasn't helped by the fact that they consolidated the three original agencies into one.

Posted by Rand Simberg at February 28, 2005 03:17 PM

The Japanese always had grand plans for space, but launcher failures always put them down. Like others said, their NASDA bureaucracy was stifling, now with the JAXA reorganization it is even more so.

I think ISAS did great things on a shoe string budget, like good university research does. Besides RVT, they made a launcher family for high-altitude tests (Mu) and had some low cost solar sat proposals. Their predecessor also launched the first Japanese artificial satellite.

The H2-A is expensive and finicky. NASDA/JAXA is obcessed with making a Shuttle like RLV using composites. Like NASA they favour bleeding edge technology instead of trying to make systems that just work.

Posted by Gojira at February 28, 2005 06:30 PM

A JAXA official has now confirmed key elements of the earlier story.

I was part of the first group of foreign visitors to the newly-formed JAXA and I too share the concern with the shuttle approach. All is not lost however. Similar to the US, the Japanese universities have alternatives, and there is always the possibility that their efforts will develop into something more because of or in spite of JAXA.

The part of the story that'll be really interesting to follow is whether or not JAXA has a sixfold increase in budget. This would basically be saying that space is a militarily important domain for Japan. It's within the realm of possibility given the current tensions with China.

Posted by Kevin Parkin at February 28, 2005 10:25 PM

I was amazed to read about a six-fold increase, making the budget 57 billion. That would be more than three times NASA's budget, and right now a good chunk of NASA's budget is tied up in ISS and Shuttle operations. If Japan really does commit those kinds of resources, they could catch up and surpass the U.S. in pretty short order.

Posted by Dan H. at February 28, 2005 11:27 PM

I don't think it's the US they're worried about.

Posted by Kevin Parkin at February 28, 2005 11:39 PM

Dan, I didn't interpret that as their annual budget. If it is, that would truly be amazing (though I'm sure it could still be spent quite ineffectively).

Posted by Rand Simberg at March 1, 2005 04:42 AM

57 Billion Dollars or YEN?

Posted by Mike Puckett at March 1, 2005 07:31 AM

Yeah, I screwed up. Misread the article. 57 billion must be the overall program cost. JAXA's budget today is around 2 billion per year. So a six-fold increase gives them 12 billion per year. Considering they don't have ISS and shuttle op costs now, that still would give them more money to work on new technology than NASA has, but not that much more.

Still, it seems like a good development to me.

Posted by Dan H. at March 1, 2005 11:18 AM

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