The government is thinking of earmarking research funds in the fiscal 2010 budget to develop a satellite that can detect missile launches, sources said.
The project comes in the wake of North Korea’s April 5 launch of a rocket over Japan that Tokyo, Washington and Seoul believe was a long-range ballistic missile test. The rocket flew over the Tohoku region.
Tokyo relied on a U.S. satellite to obtain information about the launch. Some government insiders think the time is ripe for Japan to seriously assess the feasibility of maintaining a satellite system of its own, despite the huge costs it may entail, the sources said.
“It now seems unlikely that there will be widespread public opposition to a move to enhance our information-gathering capacity,” a government source said. An early warning satellite system would probably cost several hundred billion yen.
The government could give the nod once it is confident the system would be practical and financially feasible, the source added.
Talks with the United States, Japan’s closest ally, on researching and developing the satellite system appear inevitable, given Washington’s past opposition to the idea of Japan developing such a system in the late 1990s.
Experts say one of the major challenges Japan would face in developing an early warning system is building a sensor accurate enough to detect heat sources when a missile is launched.
The government said it could be developed at the Defense Ministry’s Technical Research and Development Institute.
The space development strategy headquarters, led by Prime Minister Taro Aso, intends to include a program to promote research for an early warning satellite sensor in its basic plan to be compiled by the end of this month.
Some in Japan believe developing an early warning satellite system could trigger a race to militarize space. Government sources said the Aso administration is hoping to sway naysayers by arguing that such a satellite system could be used for disaster preparedness measures.