Northeast Asia’s Space Launch Nationalism

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent official policies of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Department of Defense.

Northeast Asia today is in the midst of a major expansion of space launch services—with Japan, South Korea, North Korea, China, and Russia all attempting to build new boosters, often at costly new national facilities. National leaders cite civil and commercial rationales. Yet none are being funded by commercial companies.  In each case, governments are footing the bills. Somewhat like national airlines, almost all of these efforts seem to exist for reasons other than those being used to justify them. Around the world, national leaderships often tell their populations that space launchers will bring commercial profits that will justify major state investments. But such arguments are almost always misleading. As an article in the trade journal Space News observed recently, space launch programs very rarely turn out to be commercially viable.1

The current space expansion in Northeast Asia also flies in the face of the expanding availability of international commercial services from SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Rocket Lab, and other companies. Indeed, the sheer redundancy of these autonomous space efforts in an era of increasingly plentiful launch services belies both regional and global trends toward expanding free trade, lowering investment barriers, and embracing the concept of comparative advantage among nations. Put simply, it would be much cheaper for Northeast Asian countries to pool resources or, for many missions, to purchase launch services from established foreign or commercial providers. In Europe, the major powers (excluding Russia) combine their limited resources within a collective organization (the European Space Agency) and rely on Arianespace’s boosters. But Northeast Asian countries have engaged in very little space launch cooperation.

This article examines this new wave of space launch expansionism within Northeast Asia and tries to explain its main drivers, as well as the possible implications for the region. It concludes that despite frequent official rhetoric emphasizing the peaceful, commercial (or civil) intentions behind these efforts, many of these projects are being fueled by a desire for domestic and international prestige, nationalism, and security-related competition.


Despite having conducted orbital space launches since 1970, Japan has had trouble moving into the international commercial market. With high labor costs, limited domestic demand, and a correspondingly low launch rate, Japan’s space dynamics have not facilitated cost competitiveness. As a result, its space launch efforts—largely through the H-2 series—have had to be heavily subsidized by the Japanese government. Since 2008, however, Japan has undertaken a range of space policy reforms, dropping a 1969 Diet law banning military space activities and stimulating efforts to commercialize Japan’s previously science-dominated space program. 

Japan’s space history reflects its unique postwar status as a defeated nation. Unlike in other Northeast Asian countries, the military played virtually no role in establishing Japan’s modern space program and infrastructure. Instead, university scientists—such as the famed engineer Itokawa Hideo of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS)—led a program of experimental solid-fuel rockets in the 1950s and 1960s that were eventually scaled up to deliver Japan’s first satellite Ohsumi into low-Earth orbit in February 1970,2 beating China by two months.

As Japan moved to develop larger, more powerful liquid-fuel rockets through technology provided by the United States, the Diet passed legislation banning space military activities for fear that the US Thor missile-derived technology might be used for offensive purposes. Under the newly formed National Space Development Agency (NASDA), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries won the launcher development contract and quickly assumed the leadership role in Japan’s space effort. The powerful N-1 rocket (based on US technology) succeeded in 1975 in conducting Japan’s first launch to geostationary orbit.3 ISAS moved to the background, focusing on sounding rockets and scientific spacecraft.4

Over time, NASDA expanded into human spaceflight, as Japanese astronauts entered the US shuttle program, and developed Japan’s first indigenous liquid-fuel rocket (the H-2) in 1994 using advanced cryogenic technology. But a series of launch failures in the late 1990s, a perceived failure of Japan to transition from scientific space projects to economically-oriented ones, and North Korea’s threatening1998 missile test led the Diet members to initiate a major reform of Japan’s space activities. This eventually led to a merger of ISAS and NASDA and the creation of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2003, with a mandate to increase commercialization of Japan’s satellites and launchers.5 Provoked by China’s 2007 anti-satellite weapons test, the Diet also passed legislation in 2008 to allow Japan to conduct military activities in space, particularly for maritime domain awareness, reconnaissance, and missile early warning.6

As a result of these reforms, Japan renewed efforts to commercially market its H-2A and larger H-2B boosters—both produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries—for launching foreign satellites into low-Earth orbit and geostationary orbit, respectively. To date, it succeeded in attracting a limited number of international customers, thanks more to the boosters’ reliability than to any cost savings. Japan’s reputation as a space-launch power was strengthened since 2009 by its success in serving as the delivery system for JAXA’s H-2 Transfer Vehicle, which is currently one of the few non-Russian service modules qualified to bring cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Japan is also working to improve the cost efficiency of both of its H-2 launchers through technical improvements and by greatly expanding the yearly launch window at its Tanegashima facility, which had previously been closed for 10 months due to complaints by local fishermen.7

Japan’s most recent foray into the commercial market centers on a much smaller, solid-fuel rocket called Epsilon. This booster is the successor to Japan’s ISAS rockets, including the Kappa and Lambda series vehicles built by Itokawa. After the failure of a prior small launcher (the M-5) to achieve promised cost efficiencies, JAXA had to invest some $205 million into Epsilon’s development. The new rocket boasts dramatically lower operating costs and manpower requirements. It can be ordered and launched with short lead times, making it more flexible for commercial customers. With production costs estimated at $30 million per rocket, it will try to compete at the lower end of the world market for putting satellites into low-Earth orbit.8

Finally, JAXA plans to develop a low-priced, heavy-lift rocket (H-3) in the coming years, aiming to cut H-2 production costs by 50 percent. However, the rocket will enter the high-end market for placing satellites into geostationary orbit, pitting itself against rising commercial giant SpaceX. JAXA hopes to complete the rocket by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, timing that suggests the booster is intended to serve a political purpose as much as an economic one.9

South Korea

On the Korean Peninsula, a slightly slower-paced and smaller-scale space expansion is ongoing, due to more limited resources. The combined pressures of the technological marketplace and perceived political and security threats from its northern neighbor caused Park Geun-hye to accelerate prior government pledges during her presidential campaign: to develop an independent space launch capability with the Korea Space Launch Vehicle (KSLV)-2 two years earlier than proposed under the previous administration and to use it to attempt launching a lunar probe by 2020.10 But the ROK is still a newcomer in the launch field, with a single successful launch in February 2013 of the two-stage KSLV-1. This vehicle consisted of a Russian Angara first stage and a Korean solid-fuel second stage, with a satellite on top. To the chagrin of officials at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), the launch followed two failures and took place a month-and-a-half after North Korea’s first satellite launch.  Nevertheless, the progress of South Korea’s space program is remarkable: it began with virtually nothing in the mid-1980s, then became a satellite builder (with foreign licenses) in the 1990s, sent astronaut Yi So-yeon to the ISS in 2008, and finally, established a modern launch facility Naro in South Jeolla province, with Russian assistance.11 South Korea’s somewhat unlikely temporary partnership with Russia to enter the space launch field came only after legal and export control restrictions caused US companies to decline ROK requests to create a launch partnership.

Given the estimated $500 million spent on building the Naro facility and attempting three launches by 2013,12 advancing South Korea’s space launch program has posed significant budgetary challenges. Building the indigenously produced KSLV-2— planned as a three-stage liquid-fuel rocket capable of putting 1.5 tons into low-Earth orbit—will be costly, with an estimated price tag of $1.9 billion. Accordingly, the Park administration’s aggressive timetable has slipped slightly, with the KSLV-2’s first test flight now scheduled for 2019 and the robotic Moon landing planned for 2024.13 But Park boosted KARI’s yearly budget by more than 21 percent in 2015 to a record $553 million, showing the government’s firm commitment to its continued progress.14

While KARI’s goal of a lunar lander repeats a feat accomplished by a number of other countries, Seoul sees space accomplishments as critical to the country’s “place” in Northeast Asia and the peninsula. Rejecting suggestions that the Moon probe is aimed only at political prestige, Park indicated that South Korea may be able to develop commercial mining operations using materials found in the lunar soil.15 But the costs of such missions relative to their anticipated returns have thus far kept more advanced space powers from launching such ambitious efforts. Seoul will need new technologies and efficiency measures if it hopes to make lunar mining a commercial success. 

As KARI seeks to develop and begin testing the KSLV-2, questions also remain about whether the ROK’s new launcher will be able to establish itself as a successful competitor in the increasingly crowded global commercial market. Clearly, if all Seoul wanted to do was to deliver civil space payloads into orbit or even the Moon, it could purchase flights much more cheaply on foreign rockets. To support its programs, KARI announced that it hopes to launch at least seven foreign satellites on a commercial basis by 2025.16 But the international launch market is bound to be even more competitive in a decade than it is today. The ROK government’s strong commitment to the KSLV-2 program suggests that more is at stake here than money. 

Once the KSLV-2 is developed and operational, the government plans to move ahead with a larger KSLV-3 vehicle that can place small payloads into geostationary orbit by 2027. Whether it can allocate adequate state funds to meet this ambitious schedule remains to be seen.  But the ROK leadership seems to see no alternative to these investments and fears the possible political, economic, and national security risks of falling behind North Korea in space.

North Korea

The DPRK initiated a space program in the mid-1980s when Kim Il-sung formed a national Committee of Space Technology. But there were few activities and no obvious effort to enter space until 1998, when the North launched its liquid-fuel Taepodong-1 missile with a satellite aboard (called the Kwangmyongsong-1). Although Western space observers widely indicated that the booster’s third stage failed and deposited the satellite into the Pacific Ocean, the DPRK reported its first successful space launch.

Pyongyang’s space program continues to vex foreign observers. While appearing on the surface largely as a “cover” for North Korea’s missile development effort, some analysts believe that the DPRK is actually serious about trying to carve out a niche in the international launch market.17 For a country so dependent on military technology, the logic of developing a commercial launch program alongside its ballistic missile program, as well as attempting to enter at the low-end of the marketplace for bargain hunters in the Third World eager to launch a satellite, is not inherently crazy. But whether or not it will work amidst UN sanctions is another, less obvious question. Pyongyang stated it has only peaceful intentions in space and took the unusual step, on the eve of its second satellite launch attempt, of joining the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty and the 1975 UN Convention on the Registration of Space Objects. 

Despite its troubled, isolated economy, the DPRK has continued not only to test missiles but also to attempt to launch satellites. After several more failures, it reportedly succeeded in orbiting an Earth observation satellite called Kwangmyongsong-3into low-Earth orbit in December 2012, from aboard a slightly larger and more advanced Unha-3 launcher. The launcher and satellite (a clearly different payload from the satellite launched in 1998) stimulated expert debate about Pyongyang’s possible cooperation with Iran, a successful satellite-launching country and one believed by many to be working closely with the DPRK. But the satellite had problems orienting itself and entered into a tumbling orbit without the ability to take photographs or communicate with the ground.18

In February 2016, the DPRK managed to match its feat of 2012 by inserting Kwangmyongsong-4satellite into a polar orbit from aboard a rocket. Yet, this satellite also experienced attitudinal problems and is believed to be inoperative.19 This reality did not stop the government from organizing mass celebrations, replete with fireworks. The worldwide condemnation of the launch, due to UN sanctions against DPRK missile-related activity, did not seem to affect the government’s plans to continue its space program, which provides at least a fig leaf for its ongoing missile developments. While the DPRK does mention civil and scientific aims in space, Pyongyang has made no attempts to advertise its launch programs for potential foreign customers, thus seeming to discount any commercial purposes.

North Korea’s ultimate intentions in space remain unclear. Unlike many countries with space programs, Pyongyang is not known to either currently own or operate any satellites in orbit, a normal practice when trying to develop the skills and infrastructure needed to operate a modern, space-informed economy or military. To some analysts, the regime’s fascination with building and launching its own, backward satellites seems odd, if North Korea’s main goal is to develop an effective long-range ballistic missile for weapons delivery.20 While the technologies for space launch and weapons delivery are closely related, the trajectories used and the specific hardware and experiments needed are not identical, and limited funds are seemingly wasted in the satellite effort. Yet, the North Korea military is already moving forward with space-related electronic warfare by using high-powered jamming equipment to disrupt GPS signals in South Korea, apparently with the aim of endangering transportation service, including airlines.21 This suggests that Pyongyang is considering developing military satellites, although building and operating such advanced technologies is beyond its current capabilities.

Regardless of Pyongyang’s true intentions behind its space launch efforts, UN sanctions and the North’s extremely limited commercial infrastructure will make establishing any niche in the global launch market—even at bargain basement prices—extremely difficult. That leaves most analysts to view its continuing investment into space launch capabilities as having exclusively military purposes. However, the domestic political implications of the program may be an under-appreciated factor. Based on the organized celebrations following each launch and accomplishment (whether actual or fabricated), such motivations seem to play an important role in Kim Jong-un’s governance strategy. Absent economic development, the leadership’s ability to claim significant technological achievements—particularly in a field as exotic as space—may help to mitigate political dissatisfaction with the regime.


China now has the third most active space program in the world, after Russia and the United States, conducting 19 launches in 2015. Moreover, it is in the process of a major expansion, having begun operations at its new Hainan Island facility and beginning to roll out a stable of new launchers. To date, China has operated three continental launch sites, but they have suffered problems associated with limited access and flight paths over populated areas of China. As a result, payloads have been comparatively small, rockets of modest dimension (compared to those of the United States and Russia), and risks to local populations significant (from falling rocket pieces and toxic fuels).

For these reasons, the first launch this year at Hainan Island’s Wenchang facility—built at an estimated cost of $740 million–22 marked a major milestone in China’s space expansion. This facility can be supplied by sea, allowing larger rockets and payloads to be delivered to the site. In June 2016, the Chinese military (which operates all of China’s main space facilities) successfully launched the country’s new Long March 7 rocket, its most powerful booster to date and able to place some 30,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit.23 The first launch orbited several satellites and space experiments. 

China’s next step is to launch the much more powerful Long March 5 booster, a rocket with a 50,000-pound capability into low-Earth orbit. It will be China’s work horse for constructing its planned 60-ton space station planned for later this decade, matching the power of the US Delta 4-Heavy rocket (although far smaller than the huge Saturn V rocket that sent US astronauts to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970). Its first flight is scheduled for late 2016. China eventually plans to develop a 130-ton-payload Long March 9 booster—on par with NASA’s planned Space Launch System—for use from Wenchang for missions to the Moon and deep space.24

Xinhua news agency reports that Wenchang will eventually handle up to 12 launches per year, greatly increasing the country’s capabilities. From the late 1980s until 1998, China enjoyed a relatively successful commercial launch program operated by the state-run Great Wall Industry Corporation and benefiting from prices below the international market. China launched 26 satellites for US companies during these years, but the results of the Congressional Cox Committee in 1999—which investigated reported Chinese nuclear and missile espionage efforts against the United States—brought an end to this cooperation. While GWIC itself was not charged with stealing secrets, two US companies were charged with violating export control rules for unsupervised conversations with GWIC experts regarding failed Long March launches and allegedly passing along export-controlled information. Congress quickly prohibited US-made satellites and foreign-owned satellites with US-made parts from being launched on Chinese rockets. 

This ban was initially a very harmful blow to China’s commercial space launch program; however, the development of a growing number of European and other foreign satellites without US-made parts has recently allowed China to begin re-entering the international commercial launch market. China is counting on attracting a growing share of these launches, particularly as its launch fleet increases in size and capability. But commercial launches are unlikely to cover the costs of China’s space launch expansion, which is clearly aimed at establishing China as a preeminent civil and military space power during the third decade of the twenty-first century.


As the world’s first space power and still the country that conducts the most launches per year (25 in 2015), Russia would seem to be an unlikely candidate to be undertaking a major expansion of its booster fleet and launch facilities. However, flush with oil revenue in 2007, Moscow pledged an ambitious space plan, replete with a series of new launchers and a new launch site in Siberia—the Vostochny (Eastern) cosmodrome—aimed at ending Russia’s dependence on the Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan. As Russian space analyst Anatoly Zak comments: “the scale and technical potential of the Vostochny spaceport marks a truly new beginning for the entire Russian space program.”25
Along with other ambitious and costly pledges, the Putin-Medvedev leadership has committed to build a corresponding new industrial center at Vostochny to produce a future generation of satellites and launchers. These will include: the Angara (capable of launching 45 tons to low-Earth orbit), the heavy-lift Rus-MP-1 (60 tons to low-Earth orbit), and the efficiency launcher MRKS-1 (15 tons to low-Earth orbit).26 Russia recognizes its need to cut costs and develop more efficient boosters due to a series of launch failures over the past decade with its Cold War-era Proton booster and the emergence of new competition from lower-priced foreign launchers, such as the Falcon 9 rocket developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.27 For Russian space enthusiasts, the new pledges and Putin’s commitment to bringing these projects to fruition mark a much-needed shot in the arm to a space program that has faced a number of difficulties since the Soviet break-up in 1991.

In the midst of declining budgets and problems paying salaries at space enterprises in the waning years of the Gorbachev era, the Soviet Union was forced by a now-independent Kazakhstan to pay $115 million per year for the right to conduct launches from this formerly Soviet site, while also agreeing to accept certain operational limitations to reduce harm from falling hardware and toxic fuels on Kazakhstani soil. Fortunately for Russia, it was still able to conduct military launches from its northern launch facility at Plesetsk. Moscow upgraded the Plesetsk facility and reconstituted most of its military constellations by the end of 2010.. Under Boris Yeltsin, it also unveiled a plan for relocating its Baikonur operations to a former missile base in the Russian Far East, about 120 miles north of the city of Blagoveshchensk (Vostochny). But the funding for this relocation never materialized, and neither was the commitment to accomplish this daunting task, until Putin’s most recent term as president.   

Despite a series of budget increases, however, it has proven very difficult to deliver on these promises. Enduring corruption has affected the space program’s ability to make these promises a reality, even with the Kremlin’s strong support. A Russian government investigation revealed that financial violations within Roscosmos for 2014 alone totaled 93 billion rubles (or some $2 billion at 2014 exchange rates).28 At Vostochny, after two initial project managers had been fired by the spring of 2015 for skimming millions of dollars from the site’s construction funds, workers went on a hunger strike to demand wages that were months in arrears. Students from nearby universities had to be enlisted to work at the site due to the labor shortage. Kremlin’s consolidation of the national space program and its supporting enterprises into a massive government corporation (now officially named “State Space Corporation Roscosmos”) in December 2015 is aimed at both fighting corruption and stimulating innovation. It remains unclear whether this renewed centralization of Russian space activity—at a time when Western space programs are looking to commercial entrepreneurs and start-up companies for new ideas and technologies—will succeed.

Although five months behind schedule, Roscosmos did manage to conduct its first successful space flight—a Soyuz-2 booster that released three satellites—from Vostochny in April 2016, with Putin in attendance.  Considering the needs of other programs within Russia’s long-term space plan, however, James Oberg cautions, “this enormous construction boondoggle is sucking up a large share of the financial resources.”29 The project has cost an estimated $4.5 to 6 billion thus far and is estimated to require another $6 billion to complete.30

As it seeks to move into a new era of spaceflight, a second major challenge facing Russia’s new launch efforts, besides funding, is the US and European-backed sanctions on Russia over its seizure of Crimea and their support for anti-government forces in eastern Ukraine. Despite exemptions to allow ongoing cooperation in support of ISS operations, the sanctions have hamstrung many Russian space activities that had become dependent on components from Western suppliers during the 1990s.31 Russia is also at risk of losing a major source of income as US purchases of Russian RD-180 engines for the Atlas rocket declined under congressional pressure. Finally, another revenue source—the $65 million in fees charged to the US, European, and Japanese governments for each astronaut trained and transported to the ISS—is likely to end within the next two years, when SpaceX and Boeing begins to offer “commercial crew” flights to the ISS. For these reasons, Vostochny has become a symbol, for Putin, of the Russian space program’s ability to endure sanctions and to develop new services for the international market.  

Russia’s new commercial and space industrial efforts face a challenge in trying to recruit the tens of thousands of trained technical staff needed to operate the Vostochny facility.  Skilled workers are being enticed with promises of free housing and generous salaries in traditional Soviet fashion. The next steps at the site are the construction of a launch pad for the first Angara launch planned for 2018 and then the establishment of critical support technologies to allow production activities independent of the traditional space industry base around Moscow. Benefiting from the site’s favorable location on the same latitude as Baikonur, Roscosmos pledged to begin human launches to the ISS aboard Soyuz launchers by the end of this decade. In the meantime, it hopes to re-establish a viable commercial launch program from the site by cutting prices for its trouble-plagued Proton launcher and developing the new Angara family and its supporting infrastructure.  Current plans call for an additional heavy-launch booster and a smaller, more efficient rocket to be developed sometime after 2020 for civil, commercial, and possible military uses.

Clearly, Russia faces considerable challenges in establishing a new space presence in Northeast Asia. However, Putin appears to have cornered himself politically by making numerous public pledges to finish the work as planned. Whether the funding, technical support, and necessary human capital will materialize on time remains to be seen. 


Given billions of dollars spent on new space launch capabilities in Northeast Asia, what should observers make of all of these efforts? Several points are worth making about current trends and possible future outcomes.

First, while the current economics of space launch seem a dubious motivation (in terms of likely returns), analysts suggest that the future proliferation of tiny cubesats (10 x10 x 10 centimeters), whose capabilities continue to grow, could affect space launch demand in unpredictable ways, perhaps making small commercial launchers more viable.32 Thus, while these programs seem unlikely to make money, their prospects cannot be ruled out, which allow Northeast Asian governments at least useful “cover” for other aims in developing launch capabilities.

Second, space launch capabilities serve important political purposes, helping to build domestic prestige for their leaderships and to impress foreign rivals. One need only recall the tremendous impact of the Apollo program in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which greatly boosted US prestige abroad. Thus, while costly, these new Northeast Asian launch projects and the activities they will facilitate in space may still make sense for national leaderships, but governments will need to remain committed over multiple terms in order to carry them out.

Third, governments in Northeast Asia face serious national security concerns, where space can play a supporting role: for reconnaissance, targeting, and even weapons delivery. New launch programs allow countries to access space without prying foreign eyes and conduct activities that they may not want to reveal even internally.  They may also serve as a means of signaling resolve and capabilities to adversaries, since defense-related payloads can also be delivered via “civilian” rockets, whether these take the form of military-purpose satellites, conventional bombs, or even nuclear weapons. 

There are, however, possible downsides to these programs. Space launch efforts are highly costly and typically take years to complete. These risks raise the prospects of failure, particularly when governments change or state resources flag due to internal or external economic difficulties (as in Russia). In addition, given foreign suspicions of the possible military implications of new launch capabilities, such programs can increase international tensions. Since it is impossible to “prove” purely civilian intentions behind space launch efforts, adversaries naturally assume the worst (as with North Korea today), and tend to react accordingly. These fears may help explain the competitive dynamics we are seeing in Northeast Asian space launch efforts today. No one wants to be left behind.

Stepping back from the specific national programs outlined here and thinking about the future, it is still possible that despite the competitive motivations behind these programs, cooperation could eventually result. Recent space-related agreements between Japan and South Korea, for example, could lead to a future emphasis on burden-sharing and even joint technical projects, albeit short of the level seen at the European Space Agency. China’s growing civil space cooperation with a variety of European countries and clear interest in entering the commercial market may gradually push it toward more responsible behavior in space and away from its recent weapons-related activities. Russia’s ambitious plans may eventually be redirected toward increased cooperation with deep-pocketed China or by a post-Putin decision to re-engage with the West in space activity. Finally, a Korean Peninsula settlement could move North Korea into a more transparent and civilian direction in space, particularly if projects were to come with foreign financial and technological support. Such options cannot be ruled out if costs or concerns about countermeasures by rivals lead national leaders to identify interdependence in space as a more sustainable strategy than autonomy.

At the current juncture, Northeast Asian space launch expansion is worrisome. These actions indicate that space-related nationalism is active in the region, with possibly destabilizing implications. The good news is that these space launch projects are costly, technologically complex, and relatively slow-moving. Given time, they may benefit from future UN, US, or regional efforts to reduce tension, pool resources, and reemphasize the very civilian and commercial aspects of orbital development that Northeast Asian governments all say they support.

1. Peter B. de Selding, “Launchers’ Siren Call,” Space News, April 11, 2016, p. 40.

2. Low-Earth orbit is typically defined as the area of space from between about 60 miles to 1,200 miles above the Earth.

3. Geostationary orbit is the region of space 22,300 miles above the Earth’s surface where satellites rotate at the same speed as the Earth, thus allowing them to remain at the same spot above the equator relative to the Earth below. It is ideal for communications satellites and infrared early-warning spacecraft to detect missile launches, but too far from Earth for useful optical reconnaissance.

4. On this history, see James Clay Moltz, Asia’s Space Race: National Motivations, Regional Rivalries, and International Risks (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 46-59.

5. On the reasons for JAXA’s formation, see Moltz, Asia’s Space Race, 55-59.

6. For more on these developments, see Saadia M. Pekkanen and Paul Kallender-Umezu, In Defense of Japan: From the Market to the Military in Space Policy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010).

7. Paul Kallender-Umezu, “Japan Plans Launcher Upgrades to Attract Commercial Customers,” Space News, March 7, 2011, 11.

8. Warren Ferster, “JAXA’s Epsilon Small-satellite Launcher Makes Successful Debut,” Space News, September 23, 2013, p. 5. Ferster, “JAXA’s Epsilon Small-satellite Launcher,” 5.

9. “Profile: Naoki Okumura” (President, JAXA), Space News, December 9, 2013, 22.

10. Park Soo Bin, correspondence with the author, October 27, 2013.

11. On this history, see Moltz, Asia’s Space Race, 136-157.

12. Rose Kim and Songwon Yoon, “South Korea Launches Rocket as North Warns of Nuclear Test,” Bloomberg News, January 30, 2013.

13. Daniel A. Pinkston, “Joining the Asia Space Race: South Korea’s Space Program,” Academic Paper Series, Korea Economic Institute of America, September 10, 2014, p. 4.

14. The Space Foundation, “The Space Report Online,” accessed July 31, 2016,

15. Cho Mu-hyun, “Nation still lacks key technology to launch rocket independently,” Korea Times, February 1, 2013.

16. Pinkston, “Joining the Asia Space Race,” 4.

17. Lewis Franklin and Nick Hansen, “North Korea’s Space Programme,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, September 2009, 12.

18. Michael Elleman, “Prelude to an ICBM? Putting North Korea’s Unha-3 Launch into Context,” Arms Control Today, March 2013.

19. Andrea Shalal and Idreas Ali,” North Korea satellite tumbling in orbit again: U.S. sources,” Reuters, February 18, 2016.

20. On these points, see John Schilling, “Satellites, Warheads and Rockets: Is North Korea’s Space Program Really about Missile Development?” 38 North, February 5, 2016,

21. “DPRK sending GPS-jamming signals to S. Korea: Seoul,” Xinhua, April 1, 2016.

22. “China Wenchang Space Centre,” China Space Report, accessed July 30, 2016,

23. Stephen Clark, “China’s new Long March 7 rocket successful on first flight,” Spaceflight Now, July 17, 2016.

24. Clifford R. McMurray, “The Fledgling Dragon: China’s Human Spaceflight Program,” Ad Astra 27 (2015): 33.

25. Anatoly Zak, “Two Views on Russian Space: The Case for Optimism,” Aerospace America (2015), 24.

26. Vladimir Gregorevich Vlasenko, “Kosmos, kotoroi my eshche ne poteriali,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 8, 2011.

27. Peter de Selding, “Price Cuts Part of Multipronged Strategy to Win Back Proton Customers,” Space News, September 28, 2015, 6.

28. Schetnaya Palata Rossiiskoi Federatsii, “Proverka Schetnoi palata podverdila nizkii yroven’ finansovogo menedzhmenta Roskosmosa,” Press Release, June 8, 2015, accessed July 31, 2016, .

29. James Oberg, “Two Views on Russian Space: Stuck in Decline,” Aerospace America (2015), 25.

30. “First rocket launch from Russia’s Vostochny ‘cosmodrome’ delayed,” Reuters, April 27, 2016; also see Anatoly Zak, “The Spaceport in Siberia,” Air and Space Magazine(2014).

31. Vsevolod Istomin, “Sputniki sanktsii,”  Voenno-promyshlennii kur’er, March 30, 2016.

32. Jeff Foust, “How big is the market for small launch vehicles?” Space News, April 11, 2016, 36-37.