Disaster Management Is a Key Element of Space Development
Keiji Tachikawa
President, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
After years of space-related activities in areas such as communications, broadcasting and meteorology, we had reached a deadlock because we couldn't come up with solid new ideas for utilizing space technologies. The public would ask us skeptically, "Are there any merits in spending money on space development?" We thought about how we could put space technologies to practical use, and we realized that what the public is most concerned about today is the safety and security of society. I think this is true not only in Japan but throughout the world. Hence, we concluded that disaster management could become a key new project. The Asian region, including Japan, is notorious for frequent natural disasters, especially earthquakes and typhoons. We would be better able to deal with emergency situations if we could make regular observations from space, and immediately offer information whenever natural disasters occur.

Previously there were three organizations engaged in space development programs in Japan: the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), and the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL). They were merged in 2003 into the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). One aim of this merger was to expand the utilization of space technology, and with this in mind, we proposed a long-term vision in 2005. We proposed a more active use of space technologies to build a safe and secure society, and one practical idea was disaster management with the help of information from satellites. We wanted the various organizations involved in disaster management to use our satellite data in order to coordinate their efforts more effectively. To encourage this, JAXA formed the Disaster Management Support Systems Office (DMSSO). We also believed that international collaboration would be another important task, and became a member of the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters", which encourages international exchange of satellite data from a humanitarian standpoint.

These developments formed the background to our proposal of the Sentinel Asia project to the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum (APRSAF). Back then, APRSAF held annual forums with participants from space agencies in the region, but the forums didn't yield many results. They were merely opportunities to exchange ideas. We thought we needed something more concrete to work on together, and this is why we came up with the Sentinel Asia project. We didn't have very high hopes because at that time, Japan still didn't have an earth-observation satellite, but to promote the project, we said we would launch one soon. We received an enthusiastic response from the member countries - actually more than we had expected. We actually did launch an earth observation satellite the following January, and talks got down to details. Needless to say, Asia is a region extremely prone to natural disasters, so if we could successfully implement a disaster management project in this region, we believe we could expand the system globally.

Two years have passed since our first proposal, and we have been able to establish a system for providing member countries with earth observation data via the internet. Members have just begun utilizing our data. We can say we have successfully pulled off the first stage of our project. We have held four project meetings with member countries, and I believe they have been very helpful in many ways. We hope to improve the system so more members will be able to utilize it with even more ease. There are other cases of international collaborative projects aimed at expanding the practical use of space technologies, but most are still mere ideas, and few have been implemented. Skeptics may cast doubt upon Sentinel Asia, but we have come up with solid results during the first two years of our endeavor. This means that unfortunately there have been natural disasters in the region, but members have learned that satellite data can be effectively utilized in the immediate aftermath. In this sense, this project has been highly successful.

At present, we only have Japan's earth observation satellite Daichi (ALOS) available for use in the Sentinel Asia system, so we need more satellites in the near future to make observation possible at all times. We would like other countries to provide satellites for use in the system. India has proposed making its observation satellite available, so I think we will soon have it in operation. We would like to see other member countries also play an active role in a wide range of fields. Meanwhile, Japan hopes to launch a few more satellites to expand the observation network, so we could observe the region 24/7. Another task is to make the data more readily accessible by improving image processing technologies. Capacity building in remote sensing technologies is also important, so more people from various fields can contribute. Japan hopes to play positive roles in these fields, too.

As a new effort, we hope to contribute by expanding the information communication network in the Asia-Pacific region. We plan to launch our super-high-speed internet satellite Kizuna/WINDS (Wideband InterNetworking Engineering Test and Demonstration Satellite) in 2008. By utilizing this satellite in times of emergency, large amounts of data such as satellite images and video can be transmitted to places that lack ground-based internet. We hope to build infrastructure that make possible interactive communication between regions, through technology such as TV phones.

Back