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Japan to aid space projects in Vietnam

The government has decided to provide yen loans of up to 40 billion yen in official development assistance to Vietnam for its space exploration program, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

It would be the first time Japan’s ODA would be allocated for space development. The loans of between 35 billion yen and 40 billion yen will reportedly be spent on three projects—an Earth-based space center, two observation satellites and the training of engineers.

The final decision on the project will be made this month at a ministerial meeting on packaged assistance for overseas infrastructure projects, and an agreement should be reached with the Vietnamese government in June, according to sources.

The government wants to enhance the global reputation of Japan’s space technology and also hopes the project will lead to more industrial development in Japan, observers said.

According to government officials, Japan expects to be awarded all three projects. The government aims to conclude an official contract this autumn.

The space center will be built at the currently under-construction Hoa Lac High-Tech Park, which is about 30 kilometers west of Hanoi. The center will house a testing facility for satellite assembly, a satellite operation and data-analysis facility and a large bidirectional antenna 7 meters in diameter.

One of the two Earth observation satellites will be manufactured in Japan and loaded onto an H-2A rocket to be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture in 2017. Japanese private space development firms and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will train Vietnamese technicians on satellite production and operation, as well as data analysis.

The other satellite will be made by these Japan-trained engineers, with production expected to start from around 2019. Japan will send components and engineers to Vietnam for the project for a planned launch in 2020.

The Southeast Asian country is long and thin, stretching from north to south with an unstable climate and complex environment prone to typhoons and floods. Vietnam has long made use of observational data from a French satellite. However, the Vietnamese government is said to have a strong desire for its own satellites to monitor weather for potential natural disasters.

The Japan External Trade Organization has conducted research to determine the possibility of helping Vietnam obtain their own satellite. Vietnam officially asked Japan to support its space program with ODA in April 2009.


Japan lags Europe, China
By Keiko Chino / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer

The government’s decision to utilize yen loans for Vietnam’s space development is taking its ODA policy boldly where no Japanese ODA has gone before.

Official development assistance previously focused on infrastructure development. Projects such as artificial satellites or rocket development had been excluded because space exploration was regarded as a “luxury.” Many government officials felt that assistance for essential bridges and roads should be given priority.

However, satellite observation data plays an important role these days in predicting and minimizing the effect of natural disasters. This was a key factor behind the government’s change of stance. “Assistance that uses Japanese space technology will benefit the nation’s diplomacy,” a government official said.

Many leading countries in space exploration are tapping emerging countries to expand their market. Last year, Japan started selling satellites to Africa and Latin America through joint efforts by the public and private sectors. However, Japan lags behind Europe and China.

Vietnam obtained its first communications satellite in 2008 and is constructing a data reception facility. It hopes to launch an Earth observation satellite in 2013 using ODA from France. A further delay in Japan’s involvement in the space exploration industry could be fatal to its success overseas.

France’s support to Vietnam is unlikely to extend to technical transfers or training of engineers. Japan’s comprehensive support to Vietnam’s space development will be a crucial step for this nation as it seeks to break into the space development market.

The Yomiuri Shimbun