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2011年9月17日 (土)

日本版GPS 宇宙開発の先導役目指したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 17, 2011)
Japanese GPS the next step in space development
日本版GPS 宇宙開発の先導役目指したい(9月16日付・読売社説)

The government's Strategy Headquarters for Space Development has finalized a plan to construct a Japanese version of the Global Positioning System.

The envisaged system is expected to stimulate various industries in Japan. The United States, operator of the existing GPS network, welcomes the idea of linking up with a Japanese counterpart from a security point of view. We expect the government to decide the details of the plan quickly, realizing it as the vanguard of Japan's space development.

The GPS, which is used in devices such as car navigation systems, analyzes radio waves received from U.S. satellites, using them to calculate the receiver's precise location on Earth. The GPS, originally developed by the U.S. military, covers the whole world.

The envisaged Japanese system would cover mainly the Japanese archipelago and surrounding areas. Four to seven quasi-zenith satellites would be launched for the system, which would fly above Japan and Australia in figure-eight loops.

This system has a few advantages. For instance, since at least one satellite would be above Japan at all times, there should be no blind spots. Also the accuracy of positioning would be improved, with the margin of error reduced to one meter or less.


GPS for various uses

In the case of the U.S. system, the benefits of space development have been utilized in many aspects of daily life, such as mobile phones. We hope more such benefits will be realized as a result of the establishment of the Japanese system.

For instance, the network would be useful in automobile collision-avoidance systems, navigation systems to assist aged or handicapped people and precise management of mechanized fertilization on large farms.

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, another possible use of the satellite system for disaster management has been attracting attention. Even if a disaster severs ground communication networks, the satellite system could obtain a broad array of information to assess damage. With the system, it will also become possible to proceed efficiently with the remote-controlled work of cleaning up radioactive contamination at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

China and European countries are also working actively on construction of their own GPS networks.

The Beidou navigation system, the Chinese version of the GPS, is expected to go into service soon. Japan cannot sit passively by and watch China's moves as it increases its influence in economic and military fields. If the Japanese GPS is promoted in other Asian countries, Japan can enhance its partnerships with them. The system would thus become significant in terms of security.


Problems for space project

However, there are more than a few problems.

First, it would cost a huge amount of money. Launching four to seven satellites would cost 170 billion yen to 290 billion yen in total. The government must find a way to give this plan a higher priority than other space projects that are currently deemed equally important.

Japan's space industry must overcome several hurdles before it is able to manufacture and launch satellites on its own.

In 1990, Tokyo and Washington agreed to procure commercial satellites by public tender to alleviate trade friction between the two countries.

However, if a U.S. company succeeds in accepting orders for quasi-zenith satellites to be used in this project, the Japanese space industry will get into a business jam. The government must ask the United States to consider this project as an exception to the 1990 agreement.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has expressed his ambitions for space development. He should exercise his leadership to solve this difficult problem.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 16, 2011)
(2011年9月16日01時14分  読売新聞)


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