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US-Japan Space Cooperation in the Artemis Generation


Increased space cooperation from recent US-Japan agreements include partnerships for the Gateway, the Lunar Cruiser, and the first Japanese national on the Moon

As the United States gears up for a return to the Moon in more than half a century, it will do so with an unprecedented level of collaboration, with not only the American private sector involvement, but also international partners like Japan’s space agency: the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Through several recent high-level agreements with the United States, Japan will contribute components for the Gateway Lunar Station, a pressurized lunar rover, and even the first non-American astronaut on the Moon. These developments highlight the ever-increasing significance of US-Japan space cooperation that will ensure that the United States “no longer will walk on the Moon alone” in the new Artemis generation.

The Artemis Program

The ongoing Artemis program led by NASA—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—will mark the first time that astronauts return to the surface of the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972 and will set the foundation for human exploration to Mars. The program is named after Apollo’s sister in Greek mythology—a nod to the series of missions that first landed humans on the Moon.

Artemis I was an uncrewed mission conducted in late 2022 to test the new Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft designed to transport crew members. This will be followed by Artemis II in 2025 which will bring a crew onboard the SLS and Orion to orbit around the Moon, and Artemis III in 2026 that will land astronauts on the lunar South Pole for the first time. Artemis IV in 2028 will in turn launch the Gateway, the first-ever space station orbiting around the Moon akin to the International Space Station (ISS) orbiting the Earth.

A Gateway to the Moon

Under the 2022 Gateway Implementing Arrangement, Japan will provide key components for the Gateway. The station is at the heart of the Artemis program’s mission to achieve a “sustained human presence in deep space” and pave the way to Mars. The first two components, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), are scheduled to launch in Artemis III.

For the second habitable component—the Lunar I-Hab—Japan will provide the Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), thermal cooling pumps, and cameras. The I-Hab will expand the Gateway’s living quarters with cameras to improve the station’s research capabilities. It is currently scheduled to launch in 2028 in Artemis IV which will feature the first crew to inhabit the Gateway.

Japan will likewise provide batteries to power the HALO, I-Hab, and the Lunar View. The Lunar View will facilitate cargo transfers to the Gateway, provide cargo space and fuel to the PPE, and serve as a space to capture images from lunar orbit. In addition, Japan will develop a logistics module for resupply missions.

Cruising through the Lunar Surface

On April 9th, 2024, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Japan Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) Masahito Moriyama signed an agreement for Japan to produce a pressurized lunar rover and for NASA to bring it to the Moon as part of the Artemis program. The rover has been in development since 2019 between JAXA and Toyota. The nickname “Lunar Cruiser” pays homage to Toyota’s Land Cruiser.

The Lunar Cruiser is designed to accommodate two astronauts and enable them to travel much farther and for as long as 30 days. Its purpose is multifold: “a mobile habitat, a lunar lab, a lunar home, and a lunar explorer” as Nelson said at a press conference. The rover is planned to be deployed for Artemis VII, currently scheduled for 2032, and would operate for about a decade.

In 2022, NASA and JAXA conducted a joint test of the rover prototype near Flagstaff, Arizona. Crew members from the two agencies lived inside and operated the rover in a terrain simulating the moon’s surface.

First Japanese National on the Moon

On April 10th, President Biden and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans for a “Japanese national to be the first non-American astronaut to land on the Moon on a future Artemis mission.” Part of two flight opportunities to the lunar surface for Japan, this feat would be a historic first for Japan and a triumphant moment in the US-Japan partnership.

As the Artemis program continues to evolve and achieve new milestones, it is safe to say that Japan will continue to play an increasingly important role in human exploration on the Moon and beyond.

Oscar Escobar is a Summer 2024 Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a rising second year at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service pursuing an M.S. in Foreign Service with a concentration in Global Politics and Security and a certificate in Diplomatic Studies.