WASHINGTON – The Japanese government plans to join NASA in its Artemis program of lunar exploration, although details about how it will contribute remain to be worked out.
In an Oct. 18 statement posted on Twitter the office of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe said his government's Strategic Headquarters for National Space Policy had decided the country would join NASA in its plans to return humans to the moon, one that could lead to Japanese astronauts one day setting foot there.
"At long last, Japan too will turn over a new page leading to lunar and space exploration," Abe said in an English-language statement. “Today, we decided on a policy of participating in the U.S.'s challenging new venture, as an ally connected to the U.S. by strong bonds. ”
In a separate Japanese-language document, the government outlined several reasons for participating in the NASA-led effort, including diplomacy and security, international competitiveness, commercial opportunities and support for later missions to Mars. [1
The Japanese statement said Japan would work with NASA and other partners to coordinate its participation in several ways. That includes offering technologies that could support the early lunar Gateway, providing logistics services with its next-generation HTV-X cargo vehicle, sharing data used for the selection of lunar landing sites and other lunar transportation services.
The statement did not explicitly state whether Japan was still interested in contributing elements to the lunar Gateway. In previous statements by the Multilateral Coordination Board, which oversees issues regarding the International Space Station, the Japanese space agency JAXA proposed "habitation functions" for the Gateway's second phase, after the initial return to the lunar surface in 2024.
Japan becomes the second major spacefaring nation to announce its intention to cooperate on Artemis. In February, Canada announced it would develop a robotic arm for the Gateway, spending about $ 1.5 billion over the next 24 years.
Both countries are partners on the ISS, which is governed by an intergovernmental agreement, or IGA. That agreement, or something like it, is likely to be the basis for formalizing cooperation among those countries that also plan to participate in Artemis.
“you are not going to do anything new. We are going to use that same system as we move forward, ”Sumara Thompson-King, NASA's general counsel, said during a panel discussion at a University of Nebraska College of Law space law conference here Oct. 18. "We are going to build upon the collaboration and coordination that we have already been engaged to get the space station operational."
The announcement also comes just before the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) which starts here Oct. 21. The potential roles for both traditional partners, like those involved in the ISS, as well as emerging space nations are likely to be a major topic of discussion during the conference.
The agreement could also open new opportunities for Japanese companies to participate in lunar exploration. Among those companies is ispace, which is developing commercial lunar landers and is also partnering with a US-based entity, Draper, to offer similar services to NASA through the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.
“We welcome this development with great optimism for the future of lunar exploration, as well as the relationship between Japan and the United States, ”Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive of ispace, said in a statement to SpaceNews. "We firmly believe the Draper-ispace partnership can complement U.S.-Japan efforts for a sustainable return to the Moon at the commercial level."