Science and Exploration

Canada-Japan MOU Could Lead to Launch Agreements: JAXA Vice-President

By Elizabeth Howell
April 23, 2012
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Canada-Japan MOU Could Lead to Launch Agreements: JAXA Vice-President
Minister Ed Fast signs MOU.
Government of Canada

While a recent agreement signed between Canada’s and Japan’s space agencies is an extension of previous work, a JAXA vice-president noted at the National Space Symposium that the two countries could collaborate on launch opportunities as a result of the memorandum of understanding (MOU).
“There is some possibility to operate a small satellite. Canada does not have any native launch capabilities. We might launch (for them),” said Kiyoshi Higuchi in an exclusive interview with SpaceRef in Colorado Springs last week.

In 2011, the Canadian Space Agency said in media reports that it had done two studies into providing native launch capabilities, and that it would take 10 to 12 years to get to that point. Given JAXA is entrusted with ferrying cargo up to the International Space Station – the next launch is in July – this would be a valuable partner indeed for the Canadians, given its track record of success.

Among space-faring nations, Canada is practically alone in not having its own launch capabilities, which has led to headaches in the past. For example, Radarsat-2 was delayed six years in its launch because the United States turned down the opportunity to launch it. As SpaceRef previously reported, the delay until 2007 added $191.1 million to the mission cost of $528.8 million.

United States officials backed out of the launch because MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates – the satellite builder – was allowed to sell data from the satellite, including American military or sensitive information to countries who are not necessarily allies of the U.S.

The JAXA-Canadian Space Agency MOU, signed in March, is intended to include earth observation, space exploration, science and research. Launch capabilities were also highlighted in a statement issued that month by the Canadian government.

“Japan is a key component in the CSA’s strategy to diversify international partnerships. Relationships such as this one are mutually beneficial and essential in providing both partners with the capability to enhance our profiles and further our science and technology mandates both domestically and abroad. As Canada does not have the capacity to launch vessels into orbit, Japan is a natural partner in space cooperation,” the release stated.

In the interview, Mr. Higuchi paid tribute to the 25+ years of collaboration between the two nations since the 1986 Agreement on Co-operation in Science and Technology. The agreement has opened up more collaborations in fields such as life sciences, energy and nanotechnology, according to the Embassy of Japan.

“I believe Canada knows JAXA people quite well – we have been discussing and communicating for 20 years. I have many friends,” Mr. Higuchi said. “We have a good relationship and personal connection.”

In a situation of limited budgets and a lack of native launch capability, Canada needs all the launch partners it can get in case of another conflict such as the one seen with Radarsat-2. JAXA’s launch experience will be a valuable asset if it can be leveraged effectively for future satellites.

Business and science reporter, researcher and consultant.