Japan Agrees to Extending ISS to 2030, Reaffirms Artemis Contributions

Japan Agrees to Extending ISS to 2030, Reaffirms Artemis Contributions

Japan has formally agreed to continue participation in the International Space Station through 2030, the first of the ISS partners to officially join the United States in that commitment. The two countries also reaffirmed their partnership in the Artemis program. Japan will provide critical 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 aboard the ISS right now.

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator, and Keiko Nagaoka, Japan’s Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), signed the agreement virtually yesterday. Nelson was at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, while Nagaoka was in Toyko together with U.S. Ambassdor to Japan Rahm Emanuel.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson (center), joined by NASA Associate Administrator  Bob Cabana (lower left) and NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy (upper right), poses for photos following the signing of a Gateway implementing agreement during a virtual meeting hosted by Japanese Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Keiko Nagaoka (upper left), Nov. 17, 2022.  Photo Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

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 extends ISS cooperation, but “brings us one step closer to one day having a Japanese astronaut walk on the Moon.” Harris chairs the White House National Space Council.

President Biden announced U.S. plans to extend operations of the ISS from 2024 to 2030 on December 31, 2021. Congress codified that in the 2022 NASA Authorization Act, part of the CHIPS and Science Act (P.L. 117-167).

The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and 11  European countries working through the European Space Agency (ESA). Canada and ESA have indicated they intend to agree to the extension. Russia has been ambivalent, at best, since its invasion of Ukraine and consequent sanctions by other ISS partners, but the most recent indications are that it might agree once it is confident its hardware is viable technically. The ISS has a Russian segment (including a Russian-built but U.S. owned module, Zarya, and a European robotic arm) and a U.S. segment (that includes modules from Europe and Japan and a Canadian robotic arm). The two segments are co-dependent.

Configuration of the ISS showing which countries provided which hardware. Note that the Functional Cargo Block (also known as FGB or Zarya) is a U.S. module even though it has a Russian name. It was built by Russia, but paid for by the United States. The newest addition, Prichal, also known as Russian Node Module, is attached to the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM, also known as Nauka). Russia’s Service Module is also known as Zvezda, MRM-1 as Rassvet, and MRM-2 as Poisk. Illustration credit: NASA

Japan’s Kibo module, also called the Japan Experiment Module (JEM), has interior laboratory volume, a logistics module, its own robotic arm, and an “exposed facility,” often called the back porch, where experiments can be exposed to the space environment and can be used to deploy cubesats.

iss066e174306 (March 23, 2022) — Japan’s Kibo laboratory module, with its robotic arm, logistics module, and exposed facility, is pictured as the International Space Station orbited 267 miles above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America. Credit: NASA (Flickr)

All of the ISS partners except Russia are making plans to continue working together on the next step in 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 make all the course changes over those weeks. The first flight with a crew, Artemis II, is planned for 2024 with a crew of four, including a Canadian. Artemis III, which NASA is planning for launch in 2025, will put the first astronauts on the Moon since the Apollo era.

Apollo ended in 1972 after six crews explored the surface. This time NASA wants a sustainable program of lunar exploration and utilization with commercial and international partners. To support this long-term program, it plans to put a small space station called the Gateway in lunar orbit. Astronauts can stay there to conduct scientific experiments or use it as a transfer point to board landers to get down to and back from the lunar surface.

The United States, Canada, Japan and ESA will build the Gateway together. Russia was invited, but never accepted.

The Gateway begins with the U.S.-provided Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). The European-Japanese International Habitation or I-HAB module comes next. Last year, Japan agreed to provide the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), thermal control system functions, and cameras for I-HAB. Japan will also provide batteries for HALO, I-HAB, and Europe’s European System Providing Refueling Infrastructure and Telecommunication (ESPRIT) refueling module. Japan’s HTV-XG spacecraft will deliver supplies to the Gateway no later than 2030. Nine launches of Japan’s HTV cargo spacecraft supported the ISS through 2020 and a new HTV-X version is under development. HTV-XG would be the next iteration.

Illustration of the Gateway space station orbiting the Moon with an Orion capsule docked. Credit: NASA

Last year’s Gateway agreement said NASA intended to provide opportunities for Japanese astronauts to visit the space station. Yesterday the agency was explicit: “NASA will provide an opportunity for a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut to serve as a Gateway crew member on a future Artemis mission. This formally represents the first commitment by the U.S. 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 fulfillment commitments made by the Biden-Harris Administration and solidifies our nations’ collaboration, which will help ensure continued discoveries on Gateway, the International Space Station, and beyond. … There is no doubt that discovery strengthens the U.S.-Japanese partnership, and discovery strengthens democracy – in the Indo-Pacific and across the globe. With this agreement, the U.S. and Japan will create more well-paying jobs, more research and development capabilities, and a growing capacity to compete in the 21st century together.” — Bill Nelson

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