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Japan moots manned Moon base

Big plans follow satellite launch

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Japan's space agency has announced the possibility of developing a shuttle-style space vehicle by 2025 and eventually constructing a manned Moon base - hot on the heels of last Saturday's successful launch of a H-2A rocket carrying a navigation and meteorological satellite.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is once again talking big after the H-2A mission went some way to restoring faith in the country's space programme. A November 2003 H-2A launch ended in humiliating failure when the rocket had to be destroyed shortly after launch. This fuelled criticism of Japan's space ambitions originally ignited by two failures of the H-2A's predecessor - the H-2 - during the 1990s, Reuters reports.

An editorial in today's Asahi Shimbun notes: "Desperate though it is to be a player in the space race, Japan still has a lot of catching up to do." This analysis chimes in with space pundits who doubt Japan will ever become a major player in commercial satellite launches.

Despite this, and the high cost of launches (Saturday's mission swallowed around 9.4bn yen or $89m), Japan is keen to press on with its programme. Short-term projects include using satellites to send alerts on natural disasters - such as tsunamis - straight to mobile phones. It recently signed up to a global satellite disaster network, aimed at "aimed at improving satellite photo responses to major disasters". ®

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