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In a rare move, the National Space Development Agency of Japan is requesting court arbitration to settle the bill for the failed launch last November of an H-II rocket, NASDA officials said Sunday.

NASDA filed the request with the Tokyo District Court on Sept. 13 because the Transport Ministry and the Meteorological Agency are refusing to share the cost of the failure, the officials said.

The origin of the intra-governmental squabble is apparently its own rocket contract, which fails to stipulate how costs should be allocated in the case of a rocket failure.

NASDA, a special government entity run off the budget, turned to the court after a fruitless attempt to settle the issue with the other government bodies.

On Nov. 15 1999, the No. 8 H-II rocket attempted to put a government-owned, multipurpose satellite into orbit but went off course and had to be destroyed soon after takeoff.

The satellite, worth 10 billion yen, was procured by the Transport Ministry and the Meteorological Agency. It was intended to replace the Himawari No. 5 weather satellite, which is still in orbit.

The contract, which entrusts NASDA with launching the satellite, says that the government is to pay the 10 billion yen sum over a five-year period from fiscal 1995 through fiscal 1999.

The Transport Ministry and the Meteorological Agency refused to pay the 3.5 billion yen portion for fiscal 1999 because the launch failed. As the negotiations progressed, the ministry also demanded that money it had already paid be returned.

NASDA is arguing that the government should shoulder all launching costs, including failures, since that is the custom followed by overseas space agencies.

Both sides have said they will follow the court’s recommendation, the officials said. NASDA hopes the issue will be settled without formal legal proceedings.

Under the mediation process, the two sides will discuss the issue with a judge and at least two jurors selected from the general public.

In contracts used overseas, the concerned parties typically agree in advance on how costs will be shared in the case of a failure, with the outcome often depending on determination of the cause. The contract between NASDA and the two government agencies, however, failed to cover the possibility that the rocket might fail.

From the taxpayers’ point of view, this squabble makes little difference. If the ministry and the Meteorological Agency refuse to pay, NASDA will still get the money from the state coffers.

But the Transport Ministry, which also used private-sector funds to finance the satellite project, sees it differently.

“This time, it’s not only taxpayers’ money, but funds provided by private aviation firms that have been used to finance the launch. If we are to fully cover the cost of this contract, we cannot provide a sufficient explanation (of why the funds were used).”

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