Tim Furniss/LONDON Andrew Mollett/TOKYO

Japan's ambitious space plans are being reined in under heavy Government pressure to cut costs, with pruning likely to lead to a merger of the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) and the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS).

Streamlining of the space programme would also include re-organisation of Government space responsibilities, which are shared by five departments, including the Space Activities Commission and Science and Technology Agency.

Although ISAS is poised to launch a probe to Mars on the M5 booster in August, bold plans for spaceplanes and moon bases are coming down to Earth as the Government faces up to the expense of space projects in Japan.

These have been highlighted by the cost of the H2 geostationary satellite launcher, which makes it impossible for it to compete viably in the international commercial launcher market. New lower cost versions of the H2 are planned using imported technology, including US solid rocket boosters.

Japan's leading aerospace firms have been courting US companies in response to the Government's Management and Co-ordination Agency's call in April for sharp reductions in satellite launcher development costs.

The separate development of the NASDA-led J-1 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite launcher and the ISAS-led M5 booster has been criticised as wasteful.

Both cost much more to develop than comparative international vehicles, says the Government. The J-1 costs up to four times as much as similar launchers developed outside Japan, it concludes.

A drive has been launched to develop, with US assistance, a less expensive J-1 booster able to compete in the rapidly emerging LEO commercial launcher market for mobile and multimedia communications satellites.

Japan estimates peak international demand for small-satellite launches at nearly 200 a year. The new J-1 two-stage rocket will be capable of carrying payloads of 500-1,000kg into LEO. NASDA launched one J-1 in 1996. It has not flown since.

Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries and Nissan have agreed to work together on development of the new J-1, which could be in operation by the early 2000s.

The two will form a technical alliance with Lockheed Martin and present a proposal to NASDA this month. This consortium will face competition from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which has joined up with Boeing.

Source: Flight International