Site: Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)
Space Industry Division
Tokyo 100, Japan
Date Visited: June 6, 1997
WTEC: J. Pelton (report author), W. Roseman, R. DePaula, C. Uyehara
It was emphasized at the outset of the meeting that MPT is responsible for all technology, regulatory and spectrum issues related to telecommunications and broadcasting and that accordingly, MITI has limited input to and impact on space telecommunications. The programs in space that are supported and funded by MITI are focused on robotics, remote sensing and microgravity. These space related activities have also been reduced in scope by about 10% per year over the last 5 years (from 15 billion yen to 11.5 billion yen), in part because of the currently reduced likelihood of success (especially in microgravity projects) and because the space industry is not large or growing in Japan.
The current MITI R&D programs of interest are the ETS VII robotic self repair satellite (managed by NASDA), the Unmanned Space Experiment Recovery System (USERS), and the Space Experiment of the Advanced Robotic Hand (ARH), which will have eight degrees of freedom in contrast to the 5 to 7 degrees of freedom in various other space arms. It was noted that there were many possible applications for robotics in terms of hostile and hazardous environments, disasters, isolated locations (arctic environments, ships at sea, the moon, etc.), and that if robotic applications could be broadened to reduce the cost of intelligent robotic devices they might be commercially applied to satellite communications in the future. This was seen, however, as not highly likely in the foreseeable future.
In response to questions about launch vehicles it was noted that the Science and Technology Agency (STA) had oversight of NASDA and in its launcher development programs, but that the Ministry of Education had governmental responsibility with regard to oversight of ISAS and its planetary, exploratory and launch programs. This having been said our hosts indicated that there were no new "funded" developments of launch vehicles for export to commercial markets under way, beyond the existing H-2 program of NASDA and the M-5 launcher, which is designed for the scientific missions of ISAS.
This statement about launchers and other comments suggested that higher priorities were being assigned to robotics, fiber optics, computer processing, etc., where there are large scale commercial applications. Space related activities, because of their smaller market size, were being given lesser backing and funding support at this time. In this same vein, it was indicated that Japanese aerospace and telecommunications industry decisions to focus on excellence in targeted areas of space communications were indeed now occurring, and that this was probably wise.