Japan Officially Signs On to ISS Extension to 2024

Japan Officially Signs On to ISS Extension to 2024

The Japanese government formally agreed today to extend its participation in the International Space Station (ISS) program until 2024.  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated earlier this month that he supported the extension and now it is official.

Japan is one of 15 international partners in the ISS program.  The United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and 11 European countries collectively built and operate the earth-orbiting space station.  There is no exchange of funds among the partners except with Russia.  The United States pays Russia for taking U.S., Canadian, Japanese and European astronauts to and from the ISS and paid Russia hundreds of millions of dollars for space station-related hardware and activities in the 1990s.

The United States began the space station program, initially called Freedom, in FY1985 and Japan, Europe and Canada quickly agreed to participate.   It took three years to negotiate the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that governs each country’s responsibilities.   Russia was brought in as another partner in 1993, and a revised IGA was signed in 1998.

Japan has delivered exactly what it promised in the original agreement: the Japanese Experiment Module (named Kibo), which has an external platform (the “back porch”) that has become renowned in recent years as the launch site for dozens of cubesats; and approximately annual launches of HTV (Kounotori) cargo spacecraft.  Japan had also agreed to build the Centrifuge Accommodation Module for NASA as part of a barter arrangement, but NASA cancelled it.

Japanese astronauts have flown on 12 missions in support of the ISS so far, either on assembly missions aboard the space shuttle or long duration missions on the ISS.  Kimiya Yui just returned from the ISS on December 11.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), a quasi-governmental institution, executes Japan’s civilian space program.  JAXA President Naoki Okimura said today’s agreement “will step-up the relationship between both countries to the next phase.  In order to realize Japan’s space policy, JAXA will produce desirable outcomes by promoting unprecedented utilization of the Kibo and the KOUNOTORI effectively and efficiently leveraging the new framework.”

Today’s announcement follows statements by Japanese Prime Minister Abe earlier this month in support of the extension.

The Obama Administration declared its intention to continue operating ISS through 2024 in January 2014.  Congress codified the U.S. commitment to operating ISS “at least” until 2024 in the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.

Russia, Canada and Japan have now agreed to that extension.  The European Space Agency (ESA), through which the 11 European countries participate, is still considering its decision.


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