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International relations

Japan to sign on to US moon exploration platform

Trump and Abe to ink space cooperation deal with eye toward rising China

Japan will join the U.S.-led Gateway project, which involves putting a manned space station into lunar orbit.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump are expected to sign an agreement on joint lunar exploration and other space-related projects when they meet here May 27, seeking to stay a step ahead of China and other rivals.

Japan will join the U.S.-led Gateway project, which involves putting a manned space station into lunar orbit to use as a base for missions to the moon and eventually Mars. This will mark the two countries' first collaboration on lunar exploration.

Such partnerships are growing more important to Washington as it competes with Beijing for supremacy in space. The U.S. plans to establish a Space Force by 2020 and is reaching out to allies, including Japan, to solidify its dominance.

For the Gateway project, Japan plans to contribute in such areas as life support systems and transporting supplies from Earth, using technology from its Kounotori unmanned cargo transfer vehicle and the Kibo experiment module. The government will revise its space policy framework and work on the necessary budgetary and legislative steps this year.

Canada is participating in the Gateway project, and the European Union is expected to join.

Washington and Tokyo will also work together on space junk for the first time, monitoring and exchanging information about suspicious objects to improve the accuracy of their observations. Japan, which currently relies on the U.S. for much of this data, will develop its own technology and set up an information-sharing framework.

If a piece of debris collides with a military, GPS or weather observation satellite, for instance, the impact for people on Earth could be significant. The U.S. and Japan will treat space junk as a security risk and work to minimize such accidents.

The two countries will affirm cooperation on Japanese-led projects as well, including Japan's homegrown version of GPS. Washington plans to have space observation equipment ride along with satellites for this system that are slated for launch around 2023.

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