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Japan helping newcomers to space get off the ground

Technology transfer, training aims to give industry leg up on foreign rivals

JAXA Vice President Yuichi Yamaura, right, and Cihan Kanligoz, director-general of the aeronautics and space technology division at Turkey's transport ministry, seal a cooperation agreement between the two countries on Sept. 8 in Ankara. (Courtesy of JAXA)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is looking to strengthen partnerships with other countries in space exploration, particularly with those that are relative newcomers.

Areas of collaboration include looking for ways to expand the aerospace market and providing training and technical support. Japan hopes offering support to countries looking to develop space programs will lead to new opportunities for Japanese space startups and established aerospace companies. The ultimate goal is to make Japan a larger and more powerful competitor in the industry.

In September, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency signed a cooperation agreement with Turkey's Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications that grants the country access to Japan's experiment module Kibo at the International Space Station. Yosuke Tsuruho, Japan's minister in charge of space policy, attended a signing ceremony in the Turkish capital, Ankara, to mark the occasion.

Under the agreement, a Turkish microsatellite will be released from Kibo for an experiment using a sample material developed by Turkey. Turkey will also be allowed to use Japanese equipment for the duration of mission, which is scheduled to run through 2020.

The two countries have been collaborating on space projects for some time. Mitsubishi Electric has supplied two communication satellites to Turksat, Turkey's state-owned telecom company. Turkey hopes to build its own satellites and run its own experiments in the future. The agreement opens the way for Japanese companies to sell new satellites and services to Turkey in the future.

According to JAXA, Turkey aims to establish its own space agency. In October, the country's science and technology minister visited JAXA's Tsukuba Space Center in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo. "We are willing to provide assistance for developing the [Turkish] space agency, particularly in the area of talent development," said JAXA President Naoki Okumura.

The United Arab Emirates is another recipient of Japanese assistance for space missions. In March, JAXA and the UAE Space Agency signed a cooperation agreement. The University of Tokyo is developing online training materials for the collaborative effort. 

To mark its 50th birthday, UAE is planning a Mars exploration project, the first in the Middle East. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries received an order in March to provide the launch vehicle for the project. UAE plans to send a spacecraft to the red planet when the country turns 50 in 2021. 

The Japanese government says that Japan has won trust among partners in Southeast Asian and the Middle East thanks to its high success rate and adherence to deadlines in space programs. For would-be space-faring nations, support with technology transfer and training are also valuable.

Cooperation across ministries

To raise its profile overseas, the Japanese government on Tuesday announced an overseas space partnership policy that will involve the Cabinet Office and eight ministries. About a dozen working groups targeting specific countries, including newly added teams for Myanmar and Australia, are active at the moment. The government is also considering creating assistance packages to pitch to potential overseas partners.

Japanese companies are responsible for winning their own contracts. But government intelligence on potential deals can help them get a jump on international rivals.

Yasuhiro Yukimatsu, a senior Cabinet Office official, said it is important to build relationships with potential partners even before Japanese space companies are fully ready to expand overseas.

The public sector plays a critical role in promoting such partnerships, while the private sector wins the actual deals.

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