Japan will launch its first space operations unit within the Air Self-Defense Force on May 18 to monitor threats to Japanese satellites in outer space, Defense Minister Taro Kono has said.

The Space Domain Mission Unit will be tasked with tracking space debris and meteorites that could hit Japanese surveillance satellites orbiting earth, Kono said Friday.

“Countermeasures against (space) debris are extremely important. We will look into expanding the scale of the unit in the future,” he told a news conference.

The new space unit will be based at the ASDF Fuchu Air Base in the suburbs of Tokyo, and staffed with around 20 personnel, according to the Defense Ministry.

The ministry aims to establish a space monitoring system in collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and U.S. forces. The new unit is expected to become fully operational in fiscal 2023.

The establishment of the new unit is part of Japan’s efforts to bolster its defense capabilities in outer space, an area in which major powers such as the United States, Russia and China have been focusing on in recent years.

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