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Japan, US mull signing agreement for space launches

Photos taken from the International Space Station showing Australia's wildfires from space. (NASA Astronaut Christina Koch/Twitter)
April 03, 2024

Japan and the United States will likely sign a Technology Safeguard Agreement (TSA) to cooperate on space development, several Japanese government sources said.

The agreement will provide a legal framework for U.S. commercial rockets that contain export-restricted technologies to be launched inside Japan.

The agreement would enable Japan and the United States to stimulate both countries’ space-related industries. The leaders of the two countries will discuss the matter at a summit meeting next week and start negotiations to expediate the path to signing.

As the technologies used in rocket development are similar to those used in ballistic missile development, exports are restricted under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The TSA stipulates measures to prevent leaks of technology, enabling the U.S. to launch rockets within a partner country’s borders.

Although behind-the-scenes discussions are just beginning with Japan, the United States has already signed TSAs with the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere. Various issues, such as proper handling of rockets and other equipment brought to Japan and failed launches, will be discussed at subsequent negotiations.

Japan’s space industry is said to lag behind Europe and the United States. The large capital requirement and lengthy delay before seeing a profit are two reasons for the gap. By bringing U.S. rocket launches to Japan, the Japanese government hopes to improve the profitability of related industries, such as those involving ground facilities and fuel supply networks, and to hasten the development of the domestic space industry.

Rocket technology that has a low environmental impact, such as air-launched horizontal takeoff designs, continues to progress. Surrounded by the sea, Japan is said to have a geographical advantage for horizontal air-launches, as falling objects pose a minimal risk over the sea.

On the U.S. side, the agreement will help secure a range of launch sites to suit their developmental needs, and launches from Japan will have the advantage of easily tapping into strong demand for the technologies in neighboring Asian countries.

Global competition in space development is intensifying, as space-related advancements directly affect national interests, from space travel and the satellite business to national security. With civil-military integration as its goal, China is also rapidly improving its technological capabilities. By 2040, the value of the global space industry is expected to reach \150 trillion, according to one estimate.

Gakushuin University Prof. Soichiro Kozuka, who studies space law, said the agreement would be significant in the development of Japan’s space industry, as it would foster the growth of industries related to the launches.

“It will eventually lead to the improvement of Japan’s own domestic rocket technology,” he said.


(c) 2024 the Asia News Network

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