Japanese astronauts will take part in NASA’s Artemis missions to the moon, and possibly even reach the surface, amid an interagency push to expand lunar exploration.
President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed the commitment Monday (May 23) during a meeting in Tokyo, NASA and the White House said in separate announcements.
A Japanese astronaut will visit NASA’s planned lunar-orbiting Gateway space station, and the two leaders also said they had a “shared ambition” to put a Japanese astronaut on the moon, NASA officials said (opens in a new tab).
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission explained in photos
“I am excited about the work we will do together on the Gateway station around the moon and I look forward to the first Japanese astronaut joining us on the lunar surface mission as part of the Artemis program,” Biden said in a statement. agency announcement.
Japan’s space work is part of a broader set of agreements between that country and the United States on issues ranging from 5G cellular networks to cybersecurity to science and technology collaborations, a White House explanatory document (opens in a new tab) noted.
If confirmed, the space deal would see Japan further expand its range and scope of exploration following significant missions in recent years. It would also align with Kishida’s groundbreaking promises since October to put a Japanese astronaut on the lunar surface, including revise Japan’s space policy (opens in a new tab) to include a push for a crewed landing on the moon.
Japan is already a major player in space. In December 2020, for example, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) brought back a asteroid sample towards the earth. JAXA is a long time international space station (ISS) partner, best known, perhaps, for its Kibo science module and robotic arm technology. And later this year, veteran astronaut Koichi Wakata will become the first Japanese to join a SpaceX Dragon Mission to the ISS.
JAXA seeks to refresh its astronaut corps. The agency opened its first recruitment in 13 years in 2021 and attracted a registers 4,127 candidates (opens in a new tab) for the occasion, reported the Japan Times.
The Biden administration, meanwhile, is working in a rapidly changing international space arena. Russia invasion of ukraine February 24 is still ongoing and has severed many space partnerships; while the ISS inter-agency agreement persists with Russia, there is no guarantee that the orbital complex will see its mission extended beyond 2024, even if Biden has authorized the United States to continue operations for six more years.
The United States is rapidly expanding its space work in Asia. On May 21, Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol held a summit in Seoul, where Biden agreed to expand their collaborations “to all sectors of space cooperation.” according to SpaceNews (opens in a new tab).
Japan is a signatory to the Artemis Accords which aim to govern civil space activities between allies; several other nations signed the agreement in recent weeks, bringing the total number of participants to 19. The United States and Japan plan to deepen their agreement via an implementing agreement later in 2022.
The White House wrote (opens in a new tab) that the upcoming agreement “will expand bilateral cooperation for decades to cover a wide variety of space exploration, science and research activities”.
This collaboration is symbolized by the two nations exchanging asteroid samples from two recent missions, the White House noted. Japan has already ceded a sample of Ryugu brought back to Earth in December 2020 by its Hayabusa2 mission, and NASA will do the same with pieces of the asteroid Bennu in 2023 via the return Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spatialship.
More details are not yet available on how Japan and the United States will conduct the implementation agreement, but a similar agreement with the United Arab Emirates in 2018 established cooperation rules, training procedures and field research projects. It also allowed to UAE Astronauts to board the ISS, starting with Hazza Al Mansouri in 2019.
Earth observation could also be part of the upcoming deal, given that this activity was highlighted in the White House fact sheet. “The United States and Japan are cooperating to use Earth observation data to improve our ability to predict how our climate will change,” the White House said.
This is probably an allusion to a NASA from May 19 announcement (opens in a new tab) a new “dashboard” allowing public access to climate information. The dashboard includes information about Japanese and European space agencies based on individual missions and shared by the three space agencies.
NASA’s ultimate goal for human exploration in the 2020s is to bring astronauts back to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. It also plans to expand short-term Apollo explorations with a permanent presence on landing near the lunar south pole, where water ice appears. be abundant inside permanently shadowed craters. the Gateway Lunar Station will support these missions in orbit around the moon.
Another country besides the United States already has a seat engaged in an Artemis mission. Canada, an early signatory to Artemis, pledged in 2019 a robotic arm known as the Canadarm3 to support gateway operations. In exchange, the Canadians received several astronaut seats for future missions, including the Artemis 2 mission, which will circle the moon no earlier than 2024. Landings are expected to begin in 2025 with Artemis 3, if current schedules hold. .
That said, this delay largely depends on Artemis 1, an uncrewed test mission around the moon that NASA aims to launch this summer. The mission cannot lift off until NASA completes a “wetsuit rehearsal” of the Space Launch System mega rocket that will launch it. The wet dress began on April 1 but was delayed and then cut short by several technical issues. NASA plans to resume testing next month.
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