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Editorial: Japan should enhance space cooperation with U.S., Europe

  • August 10, 2022
  • , Nikkei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation
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The Russian invasion of Ukraine is casting a shadow on the International Space Station (ISS), a symbol of international cooperation. Russia has expressed its intention to leave the ISS after 2024. It is clear Russia is intensifying pressure on Western countries as they are tightening economic sanctions. In addition, China is rising [as a space superpower], thus ushering in a new era of confrontation in space development. Japan needs to step up cooperation with the U.S. and Europe.

 

The ISS was launched in 2000 with Russia participating in the West-led project. Cooperation on the ISS continued even when the U.S. and Russia clashed over the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. Russia’s stance of using [the ISS] as a bargaining chip in negotiations for lifting sanctions cannot be tolerated. The path of dialogue should be maintained because the ISS is one of the few projects on which [the West] joins hands with Russia.

 

The ISS was initially scheduled to end in 2024. But the U.S. is calling on the participating nations to extend the operation of the ISS through 2030. Russia’s withdrawal from the program will pose [major logistical and safety challenges due to] difficulties in controlling the spacecraft. Though the ISS will be still operable, it will impose a much greater burden on the remaining countries.

 

Japan has not agreed to extend operation of the ISS to 2030. It also contributes about 40 billion yen annually toward the costs of operating the ISS, evoking much skepticism about the cost-effectiveness of the project. With the increased likelihood of Russia’s exit from the ISS, Japan should carefully determine how it can involve itself in the ISS to serve its national interests while avoiding additional burden.

 

The U.S. will construct a new space station orbiting the moon for its Artemis lunar exploration program. Japan has expressed its intention to join the new program along with Europe, Canada, and South Korea. The program is expected to be the core of international cooperation and it is thought to have increasing significance in terms of security. Japan should enhance its clout by leveraging its technological capabilities. For example, the country can utilize such achievements as the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) unmanned cargo transfer spacecraft and a lunar surface vehicle being developed jointly with the private sector.

 

Russia intends to build its own space station, but the plan is unlikely to move forward due to lack of funds. This may prompt Russia to find ways to cooperate with a space station being constructed by China. This would lead to a configuration where the West vies with the China-Russia team in space development, too.

 

An intensified conflict in space will increase security risks for every country. International rules regarding the use of space should be created along with China and Russia in a level-headed manner.

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