Japan Industry and Policy News: Japan-Space/Earth Observation
Japan-Space/Earth Observation News: 2 New Bills on Satellite Observation and Space Activities to be Discussed in the Next Parliamentary Session in August
The Japanese Government has submitted to the Parliament 2 new bills on Space– 1) The Satellite Remote-Sensing Act, and 2) The Space Activities Act. The submission was made in March 2016 to be discussed during the parliamentary session in June, but was postponed to August. The 2 bills are of crucial importance for the future of the Japanese space industry.
The Space Activities Actis concerned with the launch and management of satellites, and it consists of 3 parts – 1) launch approval for satellites, 2) management approval for satellites, and most importantly, 3) third party liability in the case of a launch failure or a de-orbit of a satellite. One of the biggest obstacles in promoting commercial space activities is the launch liability issue, where the cost of a launch failure poses a great risk for any private entity to undertake. With the advent of new, commercial space enterprises such as SpaceX, the Japanese government hopes to alleviate the financial concerns and make it easier for companies to launch satellites and participate in various space activities.
The Satellite Remote-Sensing Act is pertained with the commercial use of sub-meter satellite images, and the aim is to put regulations in place to prevent images being handed to countries with malicious intent or terrorist groups. The proposed act stipulates an approval process for the use of remote-sensing instruments and acquiring images, and also gives the government the right to restrict the distribution of the images to foreign entities. Thus, in order to foster the growth of the EO data industry in Japan, the Japanese government saw the need to follow the footsteps of Europe and the US to establish clear guidelines on the sales and distribution of satellite observation data.
Depending on the outcome of the parliamentary session, the 2 bills are expected to be enacted during 2017.
EU-Japan Centre Comments:
The 2 bills are largely seen as a necessary step in developing the commercial space industry of Japan. For example, clarifying the liability issue via The Space Activities Act may enable the Japanese launch providers to bid for launching foreign satellites more actively.
The Satellite Remote-Sensing Act on the other hand, has raised some concerns amongst the Japanese EO data companies. The policy makers state that it will clarify the legal framework for the companies to conduct commercial activities related to satellite imagery, but several EO data companies have expressed concerns that it may have a negative impact on their business. Japan Space Imaging (JSI) for example, has requested that restrictions be placed only on the operation of satellites, and the distribution of the images to be left at the will of the data distributing companies. JSI has also raised concerns about how the restrictions on the sensor types, resolution, delivery time of the images, and the additional costs involved in meeting them may have on the commercial value of satellite image business.
Some of the legal experts in Japan also warn of the Satellite Remote-Sensing Act having possible military implications for Japan’s EO satellites. The 2nd clause of Japan’s Basic Law on Space Policy states “Space development and utilisation must be conducted in such a manner that it contributes to the improvement of the lives of Japanese citizens, formation of safe and secure society, mitigation of disaster, poverty and other threats against the human livelihood, and securing peace and safety in the international community as well as our country’s national security”. The part on national security was added in the modified version of the law in 2008, and the new act could be argued as a step towards the military use of satellite data.
The entire scope and impact of The Satellite Remote-Sensing Act remain to be seen, but it should certainly be another point of consideration for the EU in its discussions with Japan on free, open-source distribution of satellite data.
Prepared by Ryuichi Dunphy, Minerva Research Fellow, EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation