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Japan’s lunar program against China’s space ambitions

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — According to a number of Japanese media reports, Jim Bridenstine, director of the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), during his visit to Tokyo in September 2019, invited the Japanese government to join the American plans to land astronauts on the lunar surface and include Japanese astronauts. These US plans are for the second half of the 2020s.

If they are realized, then this will be the first Japanese expedition to the moon. Japan will become the second country in history to send a person to the surface of the Earth’s natural satellite.

In the United States, it is believed that in the near future, the moon and near-moon space will acquire strategic importance in terms of economics and security. America’s intentions to strengthen its space cooperation with Japan are no doubt an integral part of its broader strategy to contain China’s growing space ambitions.

In May 2019, the United States announced the launch of the Artemis program, the purpose of which is to deliver astronauts to the lunar surface in order to subsequently be able to send a man on an expedition to Mars. The Americans plan to achieve this goal by 2024 thanks to the creation of the Gateway space station, which will be located in near-moon space.

Unlike the Apollo program, which consisted solely of providing short-term astronaut landings on the surface of our space satellite, this time NASA plans to create an inhabited station on the moon, in which astronauts can stay for a long time.

These plans should be implemented in the second half of the 2020s. In drawing up these plans, the United States proceeded from a complete awareness of the aspirations of China, which wants to declare itself as a powerful space power by creating its own lunar inhabited station in the 2030s.

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received U.S. President Donald Trump on a state visit in May 2019, he announced that Japan was exploring its possible participation in American lunar programs.

September 24 last year, Breidenstein had an informal meeting with a number of prominent Japanese figures, including Yoshiyuki Kasai, director of the Japanese government space agency and honorary president of Central Japan Railway Co.; Takafumi Matsui is the deputy director of the same agency and director of the Outer Space Research Center of the Chiba Institute of Technology, and Takehiko Matsuo is professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and head of the Japanese space agency secretariat.

It is reported that at this meeting, Brandenstein asked his Japanese partners to assess the prospects for Japanese cosmonauts to be on the lunar surface next to American astronauts.

So far, only 12 American astronauts participating in the Apollo program have managed to visit the Moon. President Trump is about to send people to the moon every year, starting in 2024 with a flight of a man and woman team.

Although the Americans did not divulge the timing of the Japanese astronauts sending to the surface of our natural satellite, according to some reports, they plan to begin such operations from the second mission to the moon, scheduled for 2025. Apparently, in this context, the United States expects to develop cooperation with Japan in financing the lunar program.

It should be noted that, although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed the readiness of Japan to participate in US space programs with the main goal of expanding comprehensive US-Japanese cooperation, his government has not yet proposed any specific measures in this regard, except for the provision of some technologies and equipment in as part of the Gateway near-moon station program.

Japan’s annual budget for activities related to international space programs currently stands, according to various estimates, from 322 to 368 million dollars.

According to an internal document of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, prepared in October 2019 and placed at the disposal of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, it will only take about 1 to implement the agreements that were reached with the Americans until the financial year 2024, 98 billion dollars. If Japan intends to ensure the delivery of its astronauts to the moon, then the costs, of course, will increase significantly.

The US government is expected to unveil the details of the Artemis program no later than this spring. After clarifying its details, the Japanese government has to decide whether the Japanese astronauts will go to the moon, and how deeply Japan can relate to this American program.

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