Japan eyes effective use of space to detect missiles

The Defense Ministry plans to use space more effectively to detect early signs of ballistic missile launches by North Korea and bolster its defense capabilities, a draft of Japan's new space policy showed Friday.

In the basic policy to be formally adopted by the end of August, the ministry hopes to promote empirical research with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will also consider setting up a special force for space surveillance within the Self-Defense Forces, and developing smaller satellites that can be lifted off easily, according to the draft.

Currently, Japan has four information-gathering satellites.

The Defense Ministry plans to load its infrared sensors onto JAXA's new satellite to conduct research and improve its capabilities to analyze satellite images, according to the draft policy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to rework the country's defense posture as North Korea has repeatedly defied international pressure and launched missiles and other projectiles. Japan is also vigilant against China's possible militarization of space.

Japan and the United States are set to revise their defense cooperation guidelines by the end of the year, with bilateral cooperation in space expected to be one of the key items.

So far, Japan has enabled JAXA to do research for the country's defense since the law concerning the agency was revised, and aimed for greater use of space under the latest defense program guidelines.

The ministry and JAXA have been conducting joint research since April last year.

The draft states it is "extremely important to use space to prepare for various contingencies, including ballistic missiles." It goes on to say there exist "grave threats to stable use of space," citing factors such as an increase in space debris, and moves to develop weapons to shoot down satellites.

The ministry crafted the first basic policy in 2009 after Japan enacted the Basic Space Law in 2008.