The government plans to launch a project to send astronauts to the moon’s surface on an exploration mission in cooperation with a similar U.S. space project, sources close to the government said.
Japan hopes to join the U.S. project to construct a spaceport in lunar orbit in the latter half of the 2020s, in an effort to realize a lunar surface exploration mission by a Japanese astronaut. The government plans to submit a draft report on the project to a meeting of a governmental panel of space policy experts.
By joining an international space probe, the nation is expected to obtain scientific results, and also boost its competitiveness in the space industry and assert Japan’s leadership in the field of space utilization, the sources said.
Japan has participated in the International Space Station. ISS operations have been arranged up through 2024 but operations beyond that year remain uncertain.
With an eye on the post-ISS era, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration has formulated the space project “Deep Space Gateway.” Under this project, NASA plans to build a spaceport in lunar orbit, equipped with a habitat for astronauts and a fuel supply facility. The spaceport will be used as a base for manned exploration missions on the lunar surface and a relay base to explore deep space toward Mars.
NASA hopes to begin sending construction materials into space in about 2020 to start the assembly of the gateway.
Tokyo has decided it is a realistic goal to send astronauts for the first time to the lunar surface for exploration activities, by joining the U.S. project and contributing its expertise in such areas as the docking of the space station and supply ship. Japan will draw on its experience of close cooperation with the United States regarding ISS operations.
Promoting international cooperation also is expected to reduce costs.
The Japanese government plans to compile a report on the future of international space exploration through such forums as the Committee on National Space Policy, composed of experts. In mid-December, the government plans to revise the road map for the Basic Plan on Space Policy, including items such as technologies needed for a lunar exploration. The current plan was adopted at a Cabinet meeting in 2016. The government revises the road map every year based on the basic policy.
In the Japan-U.S. summit meeting on Nov. 6, both leaders agreed to promote cooperation in space exploration. Yet the details of the U.S. spaceport project have not been decided. Also, Japan’s share of the operation on the spaceport and its share of the cost have not been decided. Tokyo plans to start full-fledged negotiations with the United States over these matters after NASA’s new chief is confirmed by the U.S. Congress.