Calling it the “fourth battlefield,” the Japanese government announced the launching of a Japan Space Force for 2019. Although the immediate reaction is to envision cartoons and movies in which fighter jets enter space to protect the earth from aliens or engage in dogfights, the reality is a little more mundane. The new Japan Space Force will be a system meant to protect satellites from space debris as they orbit the earth.
Japan’s air forces (the Air Self-Defense Force) will provide personnel to the new Japan Space Force program, which will mainly be in place to monitor space debris and work in cooperation with the U.S. military to provide information and interdiction capabilities. The science ministry and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will also be involved, says Yahoo News.
The goal of the Japan Space Force program will be to track the thousands of pieces of debris that encircle the earth, comprised of everything from trash ejected from early missions to decommissioned satellites that have not degraded orbit and fallen. Over half a million pieces of “space junk” are currently assumed to be in orbit, with many of them being tracked by space agencies in various countries globally.
The Daily Mail reports that many public and private space agencies are considering ways to reduce the amount of space junk in orbit with schemes ranging from magnetic nets to a craft with a “space claw” equipped to grab larger pieces of junk and drag them into the atmosphere, where they’d burn up.
Combating this space junk will be the Japan Space Force’s primary mission. The 2019 launch, the Japanese government says, will begin that mission with tracking and reporting capabilities. Down the line, the Japan Space Force could conceivably have active systems for intercepting or destroying space junk, but so far, no such plans have been announced.
Initially, monitoring facilities will likely center at the Japan Space Forum facility in Okayama, which has a radar and telescope array already in operation. JSF is a Tokyo-based think tank with ties to the Japanese military, making it a good starting point for the Japan Space Force.
The announcement of the formation of the Japan Space Force comes after the Japanese government revised its law regarding non-military activities in space back in 2008. The collaboration between this new Japan Space Force and the U.S. military is a continuation of space-related cooperation that began in earnest in 2007 when China launched a missile and destroyed its own satellite in a test, showing they have the capability to do so. This hints that the Japan Space Force may be more than so far announced.