Following up on the building space race between Japan and China, Japan’s space program may go through a different type of transformation.
On October 4th, 2004, $10 million was awarded to Burt Rutan for his project SpaceShipOne, created by a non-government organization and designed to be a reusable vehicle capable of reaching low Earth orbit twice within a two week period. This was known as the Ansari X-Prize
On September 14th, 2007, Google announced they will offer $20 million to the first private company that can successfully land a spacecraft on the lunar surface, in what has become known as the Lunar X-Prize. Setting a 2012 deadline, Google is no doubt hoping to accomplish what the X-Prize sponsors successfully did: renewing interest in space travel, promoting new technological breakthroughs, and encouraging the development of the private industry. If the Google founders are reading this, I wouldn’t mind a small grant to support my travel writing.
With JAXA recently launching their first lunar probe, there has been speculation in the blogosphere as to whether the space organization will attempt to completely cut off governmental funding in an attempt to make itself a contender for the $20 million.
"..the government is now following a policy of privatization of the space industry; for example, JAXA is outsourcing some of its maintenance activities to private companies and is trying also to increase revenues through its operations. Such trends, however, could become actually a great opportunity for future collaborations. Although Japan is very proud to carry out indigenous space programs and has a very ambitious and independent vision of its future role, it will have to choose its priorities and concede with more international programs."
I normally think of JAXA and NASA as entities so closely affiliated with their respective governments that they couldn’t survive otherwise. Then I remember I actually know very little about JAXA. If they can successfully break the ties without any huge losses in property or support, more power to them; the future of space exploration resides in the private industry, not the administrative roadblocks caused by governmental involvement.