Japan's space policy committee in the Cabinet Office decided Thursday to participate in the U.S. program to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024.

Tokyo will notify Washington later this year about the decision by the Committee on National Space Policy.

Japan will offer technical cooperation for the construction of an orbital outpost to be used by astronauts as a base for the Artemis lunar exploration program.

(Image of NASA's Gateway lunar orbiting space station.)
[Image courtesy of NASA]

The committee, however, withheld its decision on whether to take part in building the so-called Gateway, a base housing living quarters, laboratories and docking ports for the exploration of the Moon as well as Mars, from 2025 due to cost concerns.

"We will express our intention at an early stage so we can strengthen our relationship of trust with the United States and by this, we expect Japanese astronauts will be able to take part in travel to the Moon," Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of the seven-member panel, said at a news conference.

Canada announced its participation in February and Europe is expected to do so soon.

Japan will provide devices for a life-support system, air-conditioning equipment and batteries, among other things.

If Japan decides to continue its participation in the U.S. space program from 2025 and beyond, it will use its next-generation cargo transporter, HTV-X, to send supplies to the Gateway.

The Gateway's construction was initially scheduled to start in 2022 and be concluded around 2026, but the United States said earlier this year that it will focus on sending astronauts to the Moon in 2024.

The last humans to walk on the Moon were American astronauts from the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

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