The Japanese government has said it will establish a $6.6 billion (¥1 trillion) fund to develop the country’s space industry as programs in the U.S., Russia, China and India rush to put men on the moon, build lunar sites and plan for the future of the International Space Station in a renewed race for celestial supremacy.
The Cabinet of Japan approved a 10-year allocation of the fund for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Japan Times reported, which will be spent on researching space exploration and funding innovations in the private sector.
Nikkei, a Japanese newspaper, reported that funding will be given to companies developing technologies that could be used to support national security or those that could rival Elon Musk’s SpaceX by developing rockets and “satellite constellations”—groups of satellites that operate as one system.
Sanae Takaichi, Japan’s minister for space policy, said the new push was “necessary” to keep the country from lagging behind the “increasingly intensifying international competition” as China, Russia, India and Japan all race to establish lunar sites and plan for other big missions, like the decommissioning of the International Space Station, and Japan eyes becoming the world’s fifth country to land an object on the moon early next year.
NASA has said it expects to pay $1 billion to decommission the International Space Station in the early 2030s, a process that will require international cooperation and likely see space agencies allow pieces of the station to fall toward Earth and burn in the atmosphere.
At the same time, NASA is preparing for a planned 2025 mission to the moon in which humans are expected to explore the region near the lunar South Pole for the first time—where scientists have found evidence of water ice—and lay the groundwork for construction of a scientific base camp.
The South Pole region is also the target site for a Chinese lunar mission set for next year—mission Chang’e-6 is set to bring back the first-ever samples from the South Pole and is expected to contribute to the country’s goal of building an international research station on the surface of the moon by 2040.
India earlier this year carried out its first successful moon landing and is planning a return mission in the next five to seven years that would send a total of four modules to the moon to collect samples of the surface.
Russia is planning to put cosmonauts on the moon in the next decade—it would be the first time a Russian walked on the moon—and has plans to build a moon base starting in 2031, Reuters reported last week.
What To Watch For
Japan’s well-established auto industry could help pave the way for the country to break into the space race, according to the Japan Times, and companies like Toyota and Mitsubishi are already developing moon rovers and rockets, respectively.
Japan has not been completely absent from exploration of outer space, but it has not kept up with the world’s major players. Japan conducted its first mission beyond Earth’s orbit in the 1980s and in 1998 launched an orbiter meant to reach Mars but it was sidelined by electrical failures. A 2007 mission saw the lunar orbit explorer Kaguya create what NASA called the “most detailed topographical model to date” of the moon, and earlier this year, Japan launched its first lunar surface mission called SLIM. Japan is one of several international partners that have contributed to the operation of the International Space Station Program. Elements of the station were constructed in Japan beginning in the late 1980s and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is one of five charged with operating hardware on board. Japan has had nine visitors to the ISS, including six long-term crew members.
Japan’s $6.6 billion allocation pales in comparison to the costs of space programs carried out by the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. is said to have spent $25.4 billion on Project Apollo from 1960 to 1973, the equivalent of about $219 billion today. That includes $355 million spent on Apollo 11 alone ($3 billion today), which was the first successful manned mission to the moon. The Artemis program, a moon exploration program currently being conducted by NASA and several partner agencies, including Japan, is expected to cost $93 billion over the life of the program from 2012 to 2025. NASA’S fiscal year 2023 budget is $25.4 billion. India’s Chandrayaan-3 project—which successfully landed on the moon in August—cost significantly less. The Nature Journal reported it did not exceed its $75 million budget. Russia plans to spend $2.88 billion on its space program in 2024, according to a translated article in Lenta.Ru, and slightly less each year after that. Euroconsult, a consulting firm, estimates China spent roughly $12 billion in its space program in 2022.
Scientists this week released a new photo of the center of the Milky Way galaxy they say could help further the understanding of the start of the universe. The photo, captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, was released Monday and shows the heart of the Milky Way, Earth’s home galaxy, in new detail. The photo was taken of a region of space about 25,000 light-years away from Earth.
SpaceX on Saturday was allowed to host a second test flight for its highly anticipated Starship rocket. The test resulted in an explosion—as did the first—but researchers said the second launch made substantial progress over its predecessor six months ago. The 397-foot-tall rocket successfully separated from its booster for the first time and flew on its own for about 10 minutes over the Gulf of Mexico, though the booster experienced what SpaceX called “a rapid unscheduled disassembly” following the separation. NASA head Bill Nelson congratulated the SpaceX team and its progress following the test. The Starship rocket is scheduled for its first lunar landing under NASA’s Artemis program in 2025.