The growing problem of space debris has been highlighted as a priority by Japanese Defence Minister, Itsunori Onodera, who has promised strengthened cooperation with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in order to address the challenge.
On a visit to JAXA’s Tsukuba Space Centre on Monday, 2 July 2018, Mr. Onodera expressed the government’s intention to become more heavily involved. “We will proactively get involved with monitoring the situation in space so that we can use it safely,” he said.
Space debris is a perennial issue for the space sector, and with a much broader use of space on the cards for the future with the launch of ‘mega’ small satellite constellations and increasing amounts of applications emerging on Earth, the orbits around the Earth are getting more crowded, with particular concerns for Low earth orbit (LEO). Space debris comprises an array of different objects including spent rocket stages, broken parts of satellites, even tiny flecks of paint – all moving a very high velocity and at potential risk of collision with functioning spacecraft and even the International Space Station (ISS).
Taking countermeasures against possible collisions is important for enabling the practical use of self-driving cars, which rely on satellite technology, as well as defending against ballistic missiles, Onodera told reporters after touring the Space Centre in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.
“I hope the Defense Ministry, as well as the Self-Defense Forces, will advance the exploration and utilization of cosmic space for the purpose of guaranteeing security through my visit to JAXA,” said Onodera.
In line with strengthening its space defences, the Ministry is set to install a space surveillance radar in Sanyo-Onoda, Yamaguchi Prefecture, by 2022, to establish a “space division” of the Air Self-Defence Force to come into operation in 2023.