Japan to set up space monitoring force by 2019 'to track debris'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 3:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 7:22pm

Japan plans to create a space monitoring force within its military by about 2019, with the defence ministry having already informed the United States, a source familiar with Japan-US relations said.

The force would be initially responsible for monitoring dangerous debris floating in earth's orbit and protecting satellites from collisions, the source said.

The defence ministry has altered its strategy on the use of space to include the development of a force, following a 2008 enactment of a law revising the principles for Japan's non-military activities in space.

Japan would provide the US military with information obtained in the envisaged operation and seek to strengthen bilateral cooperation in space, the so-called "fourth battlefield", the source said.

The ministry reportedly plans to operate the force by using radar and telescope facilities in Okayama prefecture acquired from Japan Space Forum, a Tokyo-based think tank that coordinates aerospace-related activities among industry, government and academia.

Japan Space Forum owns the Spaceguard Centre radar facility in Kagamino and telescope facility in Ihara.

The defence ministry will acquire the radar and telescope facilities jointly with the ministries of education, culture, sports, science and technology, as well as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa).

The defence ministry is currently considering putting the new force together with assigned units from the Air Self-Defence Force to work on the issues of space debris and satellites.

According to the source, Japan and the US had been paying close attention to the debris issue since 2007, when a missile launched from China destroyed one of its own satellites as a test.

Some 3,000 fragments of space debris are at risk of colliding with reconnaissance or communications satellites.

At space development cooperation talks held in Washington in May, the Japanese and US governments pledged to enhance their cooperation on using satellites for debris monitoring and marine surveillance, and to swiftly reach an agreement on the foundations of the two countries' reciprocal space operations.

It was also agreed that Jaxa should provide information to the US Strategic Command.