Japan's Prime Minister Expresses Support for ISS Extension to 2024

Japan's Prime Minister Expresses Support for ISS Extension to 2024

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today expressed his support for extending operations of the International Space Station (ISS) through 2024.  President Obama just signed legislation codifying his pronouncement last year that the United States intends to operate ISS until then, four years longer than previously announced. 

The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 European countries operating through the European Space Agency (ESA).  Russia and Canada have formally agreed with the U.S. plan, while Japan and ESA have not officially done so.

The Japan Times reported today that Abe stated at a ministerial meeting that Japan supports extending ISS to 2024.   It is not clear whether he was formally committing Japan to that time schedule or commenting within the context of Japan’s internal deliberations on the future of the facility.  No official statement from the Prime Minister’s office has been released as of press time.

The newspaper reported that Japan has spent $7.3 billion on ISS to date.  Japan built the Kibo (Hope) scientific research module that is part of the U.S. segment of ISS along with ESA’s Columbus and the U.S. Destiny science modules (Russia has its own science modules on the Russian segment).   The total cost to the United States of building the ISS (not operating it after construction ended in 2011) is estimated to be $60-100 billion depending on factors such as how costs for space shuttle launches are defined (average cost, full cost, or marginal cost) and whether costs are counted beginning when the program began in 1984 or when it was revised to bring in Russian cooperation in 1993.  Russia, Canada and ESA have spent their own funds on developing their portion of the ISS.  With the exception of Russia, there is no exchange of funds between the United States and the other ISS partners.

Japan also builds and launches Kounotori HTV cargo spacecraft to resupply the ISS about once a year.  The most recent, HTV5, was launched in August and deorbited in September.  It is the largest of the cargo vehicles currently supporting ISS, capable of delivering about 5.5 metric tons (MT) of supplies, experiments, and equipment.   That compares, for example, to the 3.5 MT aboard the upgraded U.S. Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft due to reach ISS tomorrow morning.

Several Japanese astronauts have worked aboard the ISS, including Kimiya Yui who is now on ISS and scheduled to return to Earth on Friday.

President Obama announced in January 2014 that the United States wanted to extend ISS operations to 2024.  Congress passed H.R. 2262 last month officially committing the United States to operating ISS “at least” until that time.  The President signed that bill into law on November 25.

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