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Japan’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is one of several Moon and Mars exploration initiatives underway by the country. (credit: JAXA)

Raising the flag on the Moon and Mars: future human space exploration in Japan (part 2)

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International cooperation

1) Lessons learned from ISS

In terms of human space exploration, five states have coordinated ISS development and utilization for about 30 years. These states have managed sharing costs based on an international cooperation agreement. It has been suggested that such an “international cooperation” scheme also functioned as motivation for gaining and keeping domestic budgets in some cooperating countries. In Japan, at least, the necessary cost-sharing has been maintained as long as the ISS has been in operation. The ISS approach may be partially applicable to the Gateway and a lunar base camp in the Artemis program, but activities on the lunar surface, like activities on Earth, will be not physically confined to any limited place, so a new operating system must be considered.

A clear vision for future international space exploration must be established, the value of the ISS utilization must be high for Japan, and government support is also needed to increase demand from the private sector.

Considering the operation and potential commercial shift of the ISS, the coordinating partners should discuss a sustainable mechanism for ISS facilities and financial assignments for each partner as soon as possible. It will be difficult for all partners to transition to commercial operations by 2030, and a certain amount of government involvement will continue to be necessary to safely dispose of the ISS facilities after they cease operations in the future. A good example of large cost project management is ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), the international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject. ITER is funded not only for construction costs but also for operation, deactivation, and decommissioning costs. Shared estimated costs in each distinct phase are taken into account by the cooperating parties in accordance with an international agreement (ITER Agreement, Article 8 and 9, 2007). With an eye on future activities in LEO, the United States, China, Russia, and India are going to have platforms following the ISS. These platforms are thought to be crucial for sustainable and seamless activities in outer space. An agreement on the future LEO activities at the government level is necessary to promote movements in LEO, including industry, concerning the cooperation on the ISS. ITER might provide one such model.

In Japan, discussions are underway with a view to the ISS and operations in LEO beyond 2030. These discussions say that a clear vision for future international space exploration must be established, the value of the ISS utilization must be high for Japan, and government support is also needed to increase demand from the private sector. Although some parts of ISS internal platforms have already been transferred to the private sector or supported by the private sector in Japan, it is necessary to take a step-by-step approach by the government based on the progress shown in ISS operations in collaboration with the cooperating countries.

As an example of how to operate a large facility with a public-private partnership, there is the Next-Generation Synchrotron Radiation Facility currently under construction in Japan (Takata and Utsumi, 2019). In the first stage of project building, the roles and responsibilities of the government and private sectors, including necessary costs for construction, were agreed in advance. Some of the equipment (e.g., beamlines as experimental devices) in the facility will be paid for and constructed by the private sector, while the government will construct and provide common equipment for the facility. In addition, private companies wishing to use the facility are asked to purchase rights to use, which are then allocated to cover construction costs. For the ISS and future LEO operations, it is also necessary to consider the service aspects, such as collecting the costs of launch and staying, user fees based on the time spent at the facilities, and development and improvement costs of the equipment.

2) Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies

The Moon is an important place to acquire and demonstrate technologies for future planetary exploration, such as landing and return technologies and planetary surface exploration technologies, which cannot be fully demonstrated on the ISS or in LEO. As of now, 18 countries, including Japan, have committed to the Artemis Accords. The Artemis program represents a logical and critical path through from Moon to Mars human exploration, and “Terrae Novae 2030+”, the strategy roadmap of outer space exploration of ESA (European Space Agency), also indicates European capabilities for human exploration from LEO through Moon and Mars (ESA, 2021). On the other hand, ESA, Russia, and China have made progress in outer space exploration originally outside Artemis, especially in the case of Mars exploration. Mars exploration should be thought of as the next step after Moon exploration, but these worlds are different in nature, thus will require other technologies for human exploration. Therefore, it is suggested that Moon and Mars exploration should be processed in parallel keeping in mind both their similarities and differences.

In the case of lunar exploration, the concepts of constructing some basic facilities are being promoted in various countries, for example the Artemis base camp, the “Moon Village” of ESA, and the “Lunar Research Station” collaborations between China and Russia. What needs to be discussed immediately at the governmental level, including Japan, is how and who will manage the multiple facilities that are the basis of lunar exploration, such as the Gateway, landing site, settlement, mobility, and Moon base camps, through international agreements and guidelines for continuous human activity on the Moon. Japan has strengths in both robotic technologies such as sample return or material supply and crewed technology for staying in the ISS, which could be of use for Moon and Mars human exploration in the future. In addition, Japan needs to collaborate with related ministries and agencies, industry, and academia to develop and advance technologies that have strengths as well as to create an environment in which collaboration with other countries can be actively promoted. For example, some Japanese space venture companies are raising the necessary funds for the development of a lunar landing rover on the international market and the government needs to actively encourage this kind of movement led by private companies, also as will be discussed later.

Importantly, strategic policymaking concerning government budget or international cooperation cannot succeed if only done by the current main in-charge organizations, MEXT and JAXA, but it should be performed as a whole-of-government approach described in next part.

The priority of human space exploration should be escalated as whole-of-government efforts

The functional development of the Cabinet Office

The CAO, the headquarters for making space policy in Japan, acts as an administrative agency of the Cabinet and plans and operates its own space program like other ministries (Takuya Wakimoto, 2019). For whole-of-government efforts, the CAO should be in charge of human space exploration with their initiative and functional strength.

For whole-of-government efforts, the CAO should be in charge of human space exploration with their initiative and functional strength.

First, the CAO should engage potential stakeholders (the ministries and related agencies) in funding and project implementation. At least, the budget for human space exploration should be allocated totally as a whole-of-government decision. Some programs that cut across more than one ministry have been managed and carried out by the CAO (“Strategic Program for Accelerating Research, Development and Utilization of Space Technology”, as Stardust Programs, for example.) Although Japan adopted a single-year accounting system and the government budget has to be used up in one year, it could keep the human space exploration budget for some longer period while being checked and reviewed by the CAO leadership. In this way, large costs can be managed flexibly according to the international cooperation situation and the progress of each project. In addition, for some science and technology programs in Japan recently, the budget is funded for a long-term span of about ten years. Examples include carbon-neutrality research and development, a key technology for economic security, fund management in universities, and so on. Given the high level of uncertainty and the need for long-term research and development, it may be effective to manage human space exploration through this type of funding.

Second, the CAO should strongly manage and enlarge programs in each ministry and agency. In the past, the main player in space policy has been as MEXT/JAXA. METI operates with industrial and commercial space sectors, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) negotiates international rules and regulations, but currently, it is required to manage new potential participants especially for space exploration such as MIC and MAFF described previously. In the United States, the National Space Council (NSpC) published a white paper of the vision and strategy for space exploration and development (NSpC, 2020). In this paper, the role of government and active and proposed programs in each department were described clearly. These clear roles and collaborations with each organization should be demonstrated in the policy documents of Japan.

Third, to perform as a headquarters, the organization of the CAO should be agile and able to change its organization as needed. As of now, the CAO consists of the Committee on National Space Policy (CNSP) and its secretariat, the National Space Policy Secretariat of the Cabinet Office (NSPS). Under the CNSP, there are two large sections (regarding basic space policy and space national security) and four subcommittees (regarding science and exploration, space law and activity, satellite development and demonstration, and JAXA evaluation.) As mentioned previously, the function of the secretariat in the CAO is partially different from that in the United States (Takashi Uchino, 2018). In the case of making space policy in Japan, it might be redundant and a bottom-up approach that the NSPS secretariat coordinate with each ministry and agency at first regarding official policy documents, then the Cabinet head the Prime Minister decide them with each minister next, and they are finalized. It is crucial for a more top-down approach in making space policy in Japan to build the function of the headquarters in terms of authority and its membership.

To sum up, the CAO should coordinate and guide each ministry and agency and the Japanese government should represent a clear strategy and priority for human space exploration as soon as possible.

National interest in space: Diplomatic value of space policy implementation

Space policy in Japan, including human space exploration strategy, is one of several science and technology policies. For the government as a whole to work on space policy, it is necessary to consider the relationship with diplomacy and spillover effects on other policies. In the past, Japan has built a strong cooperative relationship with the United States, including the Japan-US alliance; cooperation in the field of space, in particular, has always been a key issue in foreign policy. Japan’s major international decisions on human exploration such as participation in the ISS cooperation and the Artemis program could not have been made, and will not be made, without cooperation with the United States. The Comprehensive Dialogue of space policy has been ongoing since 2013 as a government-level meeting with the United States and the number of Japanese ministries and agencies participating in it has been increasing year by year, suggesting the broad range of cooperation with the United States.

Particularly in anticipation of future progress in LEO and lunar exploration, the Japanese government should actively play a necessary role in creating rules to encourage industry promotion and coordinating the cooperation agreements at the national level.

In addition, Japan faces significant geopolitical risks in its relations with other countries in the Indo-Pacific, thus, the creation of a secure environment is an urgent concern today. As mentioned previously, the synergy between space exploration and national security is crucial, and it is desirable to develop space technology from a broad sense of security perspective, dual-use technology, or spinning off technologies on the ground such as machinery operations in an extreme environment or long-distance satellite communications in outer space. Additionally, space domain awareness endeavors in the lunar and cislunar area such as space situational awareness or space traffic management, will be useful for sharing information and safe activities to keep transparency in outer space (STIG, 2022). For the sake of the high risks involved in the space business, such stable and continuous environmental improvements will also encourage the private sector to participate in lunar activities in the future. As a result, technological development for synergetic progress in security and space exploration will demonstrate the autonomous defense ability and tight international relationship both in space and on the ground, reduce geopolitical risks, and promote sustainable space utilization.

Development of the space economy

In light of commercial and industrial promotion, the domestic space market in Japan is not so large as in the United States or European countries, thus new Japanese commercial players should develop their business internationally by building global partnerships (ESPI, 2021). Based on the government market enlargement strategy, the growth of space industry has been performed in some policy and program levels through government initiatives in Japan. In particular, from the perspective of international collaboration, sustainable support and coordination, such as strengthening the supply of new venture funding, implementing idea contests and supporting commercialization, and investigation for on-orbit servicing and space exploration, are to be led by the government (CNSP, 2017).

In terms of outer space exploration, also in the United States, regulatory steps for lunar and cislunar exploration should happen under enlargement of commercial activities and requirements of governmental funding (Walter, 2022). In Japan, the total investment amount in space exploration is the third-largest segment (the first is satellite data application and the second is on-orbit service) and non-aerospace companies account for about half of the total amount (ESPI, 2021). Both large private companies and small start-ups are entering the space exploration field where Japan's strengths can be utilized, through some programs in JAXA (“innovation hub for space exploration program”) or CAO (“Stardust Program”), and space business is expected to develop internationally starting from such government-driven programs. Furthermore, as mentioned above, more commercial and industrial participation in human space exploration must also maintain sustainability in the lunar and cislunar environment.

In addition, particularly in anticipation of future progress in LEO and lunar exploration, the Japanese government should actively play a necessary role in creating rules to encourage industry promotion and coordinating the cooperation agreements at the national level. For example, in LEO, NASA CLD (Commercial LEO Destinations) contractors and Japanese private companies have already formed cooperative relationships, and the government should encourage such cooperation between private companies in the future. It is also an important step that Japan last year built a domestic law on the utilization of space resources with its political leadership, following the United States, Luxembourg, and the United Arab Emirates (Foust, 2021), making it clear both at home and abroad that the government will provide institutional support for the space exploration and resource utilization activities of private companies.

The business situation is drastically changing day by day and the role of the government should be to build the space business ecosystem through taking risks and ensuring the improvement of international conditions for commercial activities, with support for international frameworks such as regulations or guidelines particularly in the case of outer space activities. For both future commercial development and international cooperation to be compatible, as a next step, the government should reduce barriers to international participations and negotiations for private companies to help them build long-term business models in the global market.


In this article, the author discussed the importance of human space exploration as a whole government approach in Japan. Japan should “raise the flag” (旗を立てる, in Japanese) of future human exploration as a high priority of space policy and implementation. The goal of human space exploration in Japan at present is thought to consist of four parts: ISS as a continuous testbed for human spaceflight, which will be opened to commercial and industry for follow-on LEO operations; the Moon as the first landing site for Japanese astronauts and a new field for developing key technologies for outer space exploration; and Mars as a common goal for all humankind, gathering together planetary science missions and human spaceflight in the best combinations. Japan should make the decision to build a long-term strategy in space policy and implementation for such ambitious goals by a whole-of-government approach, in line with the functional development of space organizations and support for national interests. In addition, the Japanese government should take a shared responsibility for international rulemaking as well as economic progress in space exploration both domestically and internationally, based on the long-term strategy.

In a general policy speech in the Diet last year, Prime Minister Kishida said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Space activities in Japan should enlarge not only national interest but also diplomatic value in a worldwide context, and in particular, human space exploration should be a crucial field as a symbol of international cooperation.


The CAO, Space Basic Plan, summary of revision and revised implementation plan (2021), (in Japanese)

ISS IGA (1988): Agreement Among The Government Of Canada, Governments Of Member States Of The European Space Agency, The Government Of Japan The Government Of The Russian Federation, And The Government Of The United States Of America

ISS MOU (1988): Memorandum Of Understanding Between The National Aeronautics And Space Administration Of The United States Of America And The Government Of Japan Concerning Cooperation On The Civil International Space Station

The Artemis Accords (2020)

The MEXT, What the ISS or LEO should be? (Interim report)(2021), (in Japanese)

The MEXT, Human space exploration in Japan (2020), (in Japanese)

The CAO, Japan's Participation Policy in International Space Exploration Proposed by the United States (2019), (in Japanese)

NASA, Artemis Plan, NASA’s Lunar Exploration Program Overview (2020)

Takashi Uchino, “What should be Japan’s strategy for human space exploration?”, The Space Review (2019)

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Agreement (2007)

Masaki Takata and Wataru Utsumi, The Next Generation 3GeV Synchrotron Radiation Facility Project in Japan, Facts and info from the European Physical Society (2019)

ESA, Terrae Novae 2030+ Strategy Roadmap (2021)

Takuya Wakimoto, A Guide to Japan’s Space Policy Formulation: Structures, Roles and Strategies of Ministries and Agencies for Space, Pacific Forum Working Paper (2019)

National Space Council, A New Era for Deep Space Exploration and Development (2020)

Takashi Uchino, A comparison of American and Japanese space policy structures, The Space Review (2018)

STIG (Science, Technology, and Innovation Governance) Education and Research Program, The University of Tokyo, The Future of Lunar and Cislunar Activities: Commercial, Governance & Security Challenges (2022)

European Space Policy Institute (ESPI), New Space in Asia (2021)

CNSP, Space Industry Vision for 2030 (2017), (in Japanese)

Walter Peeters, Evolution of the Space Economy: Government Space to Commercial Space and New Space, Astropolitics (2022)

Jeff Foust, “Japan passes space resources law,” Space News (2021)

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