Japan has officially agreed to continue its participation in the International Space Station until 2030, the first of the ISS partners to officially join the United States in this commitment. The two countries also reaffirmed their partnership in the Artemis program. Japan will provide essential equipment for the Gateway space station that will orbit the Moon and the United States will launch a Japanese astronaut there, extending the long history of Japanese astronauts participating in NASA missions. Koichi Wakata is currently aboard the ISS.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) Keiko Nagaoka signed the agreement virtually yesterday. Nelson was at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while Nagaoka was in Toyko with US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who is in Bangkok, Thailand, for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Retreat, issued a statement noting that the agreement not only expands ISS cooperation , but “brings us one step closer to one day having a Japanese astronaut walk on the Moon. Harris chairs the National Space Council from the White House.
President Biden announced on December 31, 2021 the US plan to extend ISS operations from 2024 to 2030. Congress codified it in the NASA Authorization Act 2022, which is part of the CHIPS and Science Act (PL 117- 167).
The ISS is a partnership between the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and 11 European countries working through the European Space Agency (ESA). Canada and ESA have indicated that they intend to accept the extension. Russia has been ambivalent at best since its invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions by other ISS partners, but the most recent indications are that it may accept once it is satisfied that his hardware is technically viable. The ISS has a Russian segment (including a Russian-built but US-owned module, Zarya, and a European robotic arm) and an American segment (which includes modules from Europe and Japan and a Canadian robotic arm) . The two segments are co-dependent.
The Japanese Kibo Module, also called the Japan Experiment Module (JEM), has an interior lab volume, a logistics module, its own robotic arm and an “exhibit facility”, often referred to as the back porch, where experiments can be displayed to the space environment and can be used to deploy cubesats.
All ISS partners except Russia plan to continue working together on the next stage of human spaceflight, the Artemis lunar program.
NASA launched the Artemis I uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft early Wednesday morning. The Orion spacecraft is on its way to the Moon and will return on December 11. Orion’s service module is provided by ESA and will be used to perform all course changes during these weeks. The first crewed flight, Artemis II, is scheduled for 2024 with a crew of four, including a Canadian. Artemis III, scheduled for launch by NASA in 2025, will send the first astronauts to the Moon since the Apollo era.
Apollo ended in 1972 after six crews explored the surface. This time, NASA wants a sustainable lunar exploration and utilization program with commercial and international partners. To support this long-term program, he plans to put a small space station called Gateway into lunar orbit. Astronauts can stay there to conduct scientific experiments or use it as a transfer point to board landers to descend and return from the lunar surface.
The United States, Canada, Japan and ESA will jointly build the gateway. Russia was invited, but never accepted.
The gateway begins with the US-provided Housing and Logistics Outpost (HALO). The Europe-Japanese International Habitation or I-HAB module comes next. Last year, Japan agreed to provide the Environmental Monitoring and Life Support System (ECLSS), thermal monitoring system functions and cameras for I-HAB. Japan will also supply batteries for HALO, I-HAB and the European ESPRIT (European System Providing Refueling Infrastructure and Telecommunication) refueling module. Japan’s HTV-XG spacecraft will deliver supplies to the bridge no later than 2030. Nine launches of Japan’s HTV cargo spacecraft have supported the ISS through 2020, and a new HTV-X version is under development. HTV-XG would be the next iteration.
Last year’s gateway agreement indicated that NASA intended to offer Japanese astronauts the opportunity to visit the space station. Yesterday, the agency was explicit: “NASA will offer an astronaut from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) the opportunity to serve as a bridge crew member on a future Artemis mission. . This officially marks the first U.S. commitment to fly a Japanese astronaut beyond low Earth orbit aboard NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.
“For decades, Japanese and American astronauts have worked together to promote science and exploration in low Earth orbit. Today’s Gateway agreement represents the achievement commitments made by the Biden-Harris administration and strengthens the collaboration of our nations, which will help ensure continued discoveries on Gateway, the International Space Station and beyond. . … There is no doubt that discovery strengthens the U.S.-Japan partnership, and discovery strengthens democracy – in the Indo-Pacific and around the world. With this agreement, the United States and Japan will create more well-paying jobs, more research and development capabilities, and a growing ability to compete together in the 21st century. —Bill Nelson