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Moon exploration by Japan group seeks water and resources

  • August 10, 2021
  • , Nikkei Asia , 8:29 p.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — Japanese public organizations, academia and private companies are set to launch a joint research project on the mining and development of lunar resources, including an exploration for water.


The University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology will team up with Yokogawa Electric, which develops control and measurement products, to establish a consortium as early as this autumn.


The parties will conduct joint research on mining and other technologies, and the development of equipment for a water exploration project on the moon that the government will start in 2025.


The consortium, which will take the lead in finding sources of drinking water and energy in space, will be joined by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Osaka Prefectural University, Takasago Thermal Engineering and Chiyoda Corp., as well as telecommunications, general contractors and trading companies. Several startups including ispace and Space BD will also participate in the venture.


Some experts have suggested that there may be water suitable for human consumption on the moon. If this is true, the water can also become an energy source if it is separated into hydrogen and oxygen. In that case, the consortium hopes to build a hydrogen supply chain on the moon.


Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications plans to launch a satellite in 2025 to digitize and map out water locations. The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology’s research on radio waves used in the exploration is ahead of those by global peers, which theoretically enables it to find the locations of minerals as well as water.


For example, if iron can be mined, there will be a way to extract construction materials. The data will be shared among industry, government and academia to explore ways to use the data for industrial purposes in addition to scientific research.


Scientists must collect data by identifying the depth of the surface that can actually be mined on the moon and the types of resources that need to be captured. The consortium will study data types, analysis methods and optimum frequency bands before launching the satellite.


ispace will be in charge of transportation between Earth and the moon and on the moon’s surface, while Yokogawa Electric will manage the supply network. Takasago Thermal Engineering has strength in electrolysis and fuel cells, while Chiyoda Corp. is known for plant construction. The University of Tokyo will study lunar resource engineering.


In 2019, the government decided to participate in the U.S.-led Artemis program. It plans to send astronauts to the moon in 2024 to build a space station and a lunar base. Eight countries including Japan and the U.S., which signed an agreement in 2020 on the principles of lunar development and resource use, will collaborate through the program.


China and Russia also agreed to build bases on the moon in March, a move seen as a response to the U.S.-led development. China is aiming to become a “space power,” as demonstrated by its success in soil sampling on the moon last year, as competition between it and the U.S. for supremacy in space intensifies.

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