Japan is joining the push to return to the moon

According to Space News, Japan has recently passed a space resources law similar to ones enacted by the United States, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that would give Japanese companies permission to “prospect for, extract and use various space resources.” The new law is an indication that Japan intends to be part of the international return to the moon, led by NASA. Japan is a signatory of the Artemis Accords that seeks to spell out rules for cooperation in the exploration of space, particularly the lunar surface.

More recently, a group of Japanese companies, academics and politicians issued a document called the Lunar Industrial Vision. The document proposes that the moon be incorporated in the Earth’s economic sphere, in effect uniting the Earth and the moon into one “ecosystem” in a concept called “Planet 6.0.” The document advocates that the Japanese government undertake a number of policy initiatives to make this development happen.

In a way, the Lunar Industrial Vision appears to be an attempt to reboot “Japan, Inc.,” a system that the country established in the 1970s and 1980s that involved cooperation, at least to some extent, between the commercial sector and government with a goal of dominating certain industrial sectors. Business Insider relates how that system catapulted Japan to become the second-largest economy on Earth at one time and even, some believed, threatened to supplant the United States as number one. Japan, Inc. collapsed in the mid-1990s for a number of reasons. China has now become the second-largest economy on the planet, threatening the United States’ position as number one.

This time, the proposed Japanese lunar strategy is not aimed at the United States but rather China, a country bent on establishing a hegemony both on Earth and in space. Indeed, Japan, which is threatened by China both economically and militarily, sees the United States as a natural ally, hence its membership in the growing Artemis Alliance.

A company called iSpace, which signed the Lunar Industrial Vision document, is one of the first practical manifestations of Japan’s push to the moon. The company originated as Team Hakuto, one of the participants in the Google Lunar XPrize, a private competition to land a robotic probe on the moon. Even though the Google Lunar XPrize ended with no winner, several of the participants, including the Japanese team, went commercial with the view of sending payloads to the lunar surface as a business.