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2009年5月26日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 25(IHT/Asahi: May 26,2009)
EDITORIAL: Space development plan

The first space exploration plan drafted by the government's Strategic Headquarters for Space Development, headed by Prime Minister Taro Aso, renews concerns that focusing too much on military aspects could blight the long-term prospects of the nation's space program.

The draft plan cites five priority areas of space utilization, including land and sea observation for contributions to disaster prevention in Asia and weather observation, as well as four key research and development areas, such as space science and manned space activity.
The plan calls for policy support to promote projects in these areas under a five-year time frame from a 10-year perspective. It will be formalized at the end of this month.

National security is one of the space utilization areas named by the panel. The Space Basic Law, established in May last year, paved the way for Japan's space exploration for security purposes. One notable component of the basic plan is a research project to develop early warning satellite technology.

The early warning satellite envisioned by the government would be used to support the nation's missile defense system. It would be equipped with a sensor that can warn against a missile launch by detecting infrared radiation from a high-temperature object.

There was much skepticism about the development of such a satellite, which would require a tremendous amount of money, including the cost of developing the necessary data analysis system, and face many formidable technological hurdles.

But North Korea's test-firing of a ballistic missile in April provoked a chorus of calls within the ruling camp for Japan's own intelligence satellites.

The government will debate whether to introduce an early warning satellite when it reviews its National Defense Program Guidelines toward the end of the year. Adequate thought should be given not only to the necessity and expected cost of such a program but also to the question of whether Japan's full-scale military space exploration will increase international tension.

The government should not make a headlong rush into the controversial undertaking in response to the space industry's clamoring for stable public-sector demand.

The proposed space development plan advocates the idea of "dual use" of space technology for both civilian and military purposes. This is an apparent attempt to widen the scope of space use for security objectives.
The plan says, for instance, early warning satellite technology can also be used to detect forest fires.

Indeed, spy satellites and Earth observation satellites are based on the same basic technology. If so, the civilian sector, where there is competition among companies, should play the leading role in the development of satellite technology.

U.S. commercial satellites can distinguish objects of less than 1 meter on the Earth's surface and outstrip Japanese information-gathering satellites in detection capability.

Defense technologies tend to be costlier, and the government's state-secrets claims often hamper technological progress.

If space programs planned with little cost consciousness increase under the pretext of national security, there could be some unwanted effects on civilian-sector space development efforts.

One ominous sign is the ongoing attempt to justify the development of the GX rocket, the next-generation midsize launch vehicle, as an important project for national security. The wisdom of continuing the GX project has been called into question due to delays that have resulted in heavy cost overruns and diminished significance.

The panel's draft plan acknowledges the necessity of broadening the industrial base to promote the nation's space development. That means it is important to ensure an open environment for space development.

A broad international perspective is also essential for space development. Space is an arena where countries compete and cooperate with each other as they explore the unknown by using their original technologies and ideas. How should Japan use its own technologies to play a role in this effort and contribute to the world?

The basic space development plan should offer a convincing strategy for improving Japan's status in space.


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