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The Defense Ministry is considering building a spaceship that will be engaged in the monitoring of other countries’ activities in space and the repairing of Japanese satellites in operation, Jiji Press has learned.

The space patrol ship is expected to be unmanned and capable of traveling freely in space, according to informed sources.

For the project, which will be part of Japan’s efforts to boost its space situational awareness (SSA) capabilities, related research costs totaling ¥100 million have been included in the ministry’s budget request for fiscal 2022. When such a spaceship will be completed is yet to be decided, the sources said.

In space, there are numerous defunct satellites, detached rocket parts and other space debris which are generating fears of possible collisions with satellites in operation. Also, there are concerns that China and Russia may be developing so-called killer satellites which can attack and cripple the satellites of other countries.

The Defense Ministry is hoping to resolve such concerns through the operation of the envisaged space patrol ship, which is expected to be capable of conducting monitoring activities in wide areas as it can be navigated freely, unlike satellites that travel in orbits.

Another role that is expected to be played by the new spaceship is to repair and refuel satellites. If their failures or lack of fuel can be addressed, satellites can be in operation for longer periods at lower costs.

However, approaching a satellite that is traveling in orbit at high speed will require extremely sophisticated technology.

“It’ll be an ambitious initiative whose feasibility is not known,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

There are no national borders in space and international rules on space utilization remain vague. The United States, China and Russia have been racing to develop satellites that can be used to spy on military facilities, detect ballistic missile launches and guide missiles.

The Japanese Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces have also been strengthening their space-related structures, regarding space as a new combat area, just like cyberspace and electromagnetic waves. The SDF established its first unit dedicated to space in May last year and the country is aiming to launch an SSA satellite by fiscal 2026.

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