Japanese Looking at Russian Know-How To Boost Space Program
Aug. 09, 1992
TOKYO (AP) _ In the past, when Japan needed know-how for its budding space program it turned to the United States. Lured by the promise of bargain-basement deals, it is now casting a furtive glance at the other space superpower - Russia.
Japanese officials recently accepted an invitation to travel to Russia for two weeks of talks and tours of previously off-limits space facilities.
During the trip, they discussed a space cooperation treaty the Russians hope will be signed when President Boris Yeltsin visits Tokyo in September.
Such a pact would be an important development for the two countries, whose relations have long been marked by distrust. It could also open up a myriad of possibilities for Japan's space program.
Increased access to manned spaceflight data for use in medical research and to remote-sensing technology for use on satellites are two areas of interest to the Japanese.
''We've never had any real relations with Russia on space,'' said Hiroshi Masuko of the Science and Technology Agency's International Space Affairs Division. ''But now we see Russia as an important option.''
Private interest in the mission, which returned to Tokyo on July 18, was also high, with 20 companies - including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toshiba - sending representatives.
''We were very interested to see just what the Russians have,'' said Hiroshi Harada, deputy general manager of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Space Systems Department. ''They had a very aggressive sales pitch.''
But Masuko stressed that it's too early to draw up a shopping list.
''We don't know what they have to offer yet,'' he said.
Harada added that private companies believe dealing with Russia - which they see as unstable and uneasy with the free-market system - could be risky business.
''It is at times hard to tell who to deal with,'' he said.
Greater ties with Russia also are hampered by Cold War measures restricting the transfer of technology that could be used for missiles or other weaponry to Communist nations.
And a territorial dispute over several islands has kept Russia and Japan from concluding a treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities.
The best known Japan-Russia link-up so far was a high-profile publicity coup by a Japanese television network, which decided to celebrate its 40th anniversary by putting a reporter in space.
With a ticket reportedly costing $12 million, the Tokyo Broadcasting System's Toyohiro Akiyama boarded a Soviet rocket in 1990 to become the first journalist and the first Japanese in space.
Akiyama's flight drove home the often-overlooked capabilities of the Russians, and took the punch out of a government-backed program to put a Japanese astronaut on a U.S. space shuttle.
Japanese officials dismiss the importance of who got the first ride from whom. But they openly vent their resentment of Washington's bickering over the $40 billion Freedom space station project, to which Japan, Canada and the European Community have signed on.
Although a move to kill the project failed last week on Capitol Hill, the House moved to cut nearly one-fourth from the $2.2 billion President Bush wanted for next year.
''There is a lot of frustration in Japan with the United States over Freedom,'' said Hiro Hieda of the Institute for Future Technology, a private research group.
''But that doesn't mean Japan is planning to go its own way,'' he said. ''The United States is still of central importance.''
Although forced to work on a relatively tight budget - $1.5 billion, roughly one-tenth that of NASA's - Japan's space bureaucracy has achieved several ambitious goals, including a successful unmanned moonshot in 1990.
It is now developing an unmanned space shuttle and Planet-B, a Mars probe scheduled for takeoff in 1996.
Japanese scientists, however, have been dogged by failures in developing the H-2 rocket engine, on which they have pinned much of their future plans.
A fire last month in the rocket's liquid hydrogen and oxygen LE-7 engine - a Mitsubishi project - pushed back by one year the first launching, now scheduled for early 1994.
The H-2 is particularly important because it has nearly four times the lifting capacity of the H-1, which depends on decades-old U.S. technology.
Domestic development would free Japan of U.S. veto power over commercial launches of third-country satellites, a condition for using U.S. technology.