All about the Japanese space law

Let us have a look at the Japanese space law for this new space law article. The beginnings of the history of Japanese space exploration began in 1955 with the launch of the tiny Pencil rocket. Years later, many events followed, including the launch of asteroid explorers like the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft. Half a century ago, on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission made the American Neil Armstrong the first human being to walk on the Moon with in the background, the fierce competition between the United States of America and the USSR. Today the situation is quite different.

JAXA and space exploration

In recent years and more particularly in 2019, the Japanese space agency or JAXA has been much talked about by being at the forefront of the space scene with its ambitious mission of the Hayabusa-2 probe. Nevertheless, if Japan is often considered as a small space gauge compared to its Chinese neighbour and the China National Space Administration or CNSA, or to agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), it remains among the greatest space nations.

JAXA, which stands for Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, was created in 2003 from the merger of the three Japanese organizations that had worked in the space field until then: ISAS, NAL and NASDA. Its objective was then to set up the new Japanese space policy which consists in the development of launchers and satellites, in space exploration missions, but also in the manned space program which is summarised through an important participation in the program of the International Space Station (ISS).

Subsequently, Japan continues to operate solid rocket rockets with the “Mu” family of rockets. These are much more massive, however, and will mark the beginning of ISAS scientific missions. NASDA was created in 1969 with ambitious objectives for its civil space activities. After having entrusted the assembly of the NI and N-II liquid propellant launchers (under American license, derived from the Delta) to Mitsubishi, Japan has slowly evolved towards a machine resulting from its own design with the heavy launchers HI and H-II , this being the first launcher entirely developed by NASDA.

H-II being considered far too expensive compared to competing launchers like Ariane, it will not stop being improved until the H-IIA and H-IIB versions that we know today. By 2020, JAXA intends to present its brand new H3 launcher, it will aim to replace H-IIA by reducing the cost of each launch so as to be more competitive. It should use a new LE-9 engine developed by Mitsubishi, as well as the second stage of the Epsilon rocket.

On the other hand, the Japanese space agency seals new public-private partnerships and seeks to become efficient and competitive in the commercial sector. An arduous task if we look at the efforts and advances of companies like SpaceX and Arianespace. JAXA’s most significant mission, however, is undoubtedly Hayabusa-2. After a first mission to the asteroid Itokawa, JAXA launched its second return mission to sample an asteroid with Hayabusa-2.

Launched in 2014 for Ryugu, Hayabusa-2 is the first mission to return samples of a type C asteroid, an object likely to contain organic materials. Its course: the release of its two micro-robots and the Mascot machine, its explosive projectile allowing it to collect surface dust, or its second touchdown allowing it this time to collect some rocks from the sub-Ryugu soil. An emotional mission which should end with the return to Earth of the probe in 2020.

The Japanese space law

Adopted on November 16, 2016, the Space Activities Act entered into force on November 15, 2018. Creating a regime for authorising space operations conducted by private operators, the new Japanese system seeks to encourage engagement of the private sector in space activities by ensuring legal certainty. An authorisation procedure for launches (compliance of the launcher and the launch base with safety standards; ability of the operator to conduct the launch, etc.), as well as an authorisation procedure for the operation of satellites (review of the mission objectives; compliance of the satellite with security standards, etc.) have been implemented.

This law, which sets out procedures for authorising and supervising rocket and satellite launches by private sector companies, also establishes public indemnities to strengthen the reliability of insurance accident coverage.

The Japanese Law on Space Activities, promulgated on November 16, 2016, sets up an authorisation procedure for the launching of rockets and the exploitation of satellites by private sector companies. Japan is a newcomer in this area, since this kind of legislation already exists in more than twenty countries in the Western world and elsewhere. The content of commercial space laws varies from country to country, depending on whether or not they have their own launch sites and depending on various other factors, such as the degree of maturity of their space activities. But in most cases, the legislation contains clauses designed to meet constraints in the three areas listed below.

The first is related to the Outer Space Treaty (OST). This protocol, the full name of which is the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, was adopted in December 1966 by the General Assembly of the United Nations and entered into force in October 1967.

Secondly, given the extremely dangerous nature of rocket launches and other space operations, it is incumbent on States to subject these activities to standards that fully guarantee public safety and environmental protection. They must also set up a compensation scheme for the victims of a possible accident.

Thirdly, the legislation on space activities in many cases provides support for companies active in this sector when their solidity is not yet proven. The main objective of Japan’s space activities law is to provide this kind of support in order to encourage the expansion of the space industry.

Japan, which in February 1970 became the fourth country to successfully launch a solid propellant rocket of fully domestic manufacture, established itself in the following years as a leader in the space field. The only Asian participant in the International Space Station (ISS), it is also the first country that has managed to recover an asteroid sample beyond Earth’s gravitational field.

However, Japan stuck to a policy of banning the use of space for national defense until 2008, and this partly explains its backwardness in space activities. At the same time, and although the global geolocation system (GPS) based on the location, navigation and synchronisation satellites of the United States Air Force was primarily designed to improve the missile precision, the free accessibility of signals to the public around the world has generated a profusion of commercial outlets, in the form of products and services such as vehicle navigation systems, precision mapping, supply chain management and ultra-fast stock trading. In this context, Japan’s space activities have been confined almost exclusively to scientific research and technological development.

In recent years, however, a global consensus has emerged that space is a potential source of wealth and a key to the security of nations, and Japan has come to recognise that the country cannot afford to miss the opportunities that space offers, not only for doing business but also for ensuring its share of responsibilities in the field of international security. In 2008, it embarked on a major shift in its space policy by adopting its Basic Space Law, which authorised, for example, the use of image surveillance satellites to observe the military installations of the potentially dangerous countries. The law also required the government to take measures to promote the commercialization of space and to encourage space activities through the enactment of a law dealing specifically with this area.

Japan and military space

Since 1969, the Japanese space program has been limited only to civilian applications. This has not been the case since the House of Representatives of the Japanese Parliament passed the Basic Space Law which has the specific purpose of lifting these previously imposed restrictions.

The adopted text thus authorises the use of space in order to “guarantee international peace and security as well as ensuring the security of the country” within the framework “of the pacifist principles of the Constitution”, in force since the end of the Second World War.

The law received support from the currently ruling Liberal Democratic Party (PLD, right) and the Democratic Party of Japan (PDJ, center) which insisted that Japanese military projects in this area be non-aggressive. Only the Communists opposed it.

This text is the beginning of a response to the concerns aroused in Japan by the development of the military component of the Chinese space program of which the destruction of an old satellite in orbit in January 2007 is an illustration and also by the tests of North-Korean ballistic missiles towards the archipelago.

Although Japan already has three observation satellites with limited capabilities to monitor North Korea, the Japanese military will now be allowed to have spy satellites much better than those used to date and to develop other means space defense.

Expenses related to the Japanese space program are around one and a half billion American dollars. The law passed by Japanese deputies was the subject of intense lobbying on the part of Nippon Keidanren, an association bringing together Japanese companies whose spokesperson declared “that there will be more satellites in the future and rockets used for space security, which is a favorable factor for the space industry”. One of the main players in this sector is the company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries which recently designed the rocket which carried a lunar probe.

This article was written by Ange-Marie DIOKH (Paris-Saclay).