Aerospace Plane Technology:

Research and Development Efforts in Japan and Australia

NSIAD-92-5: Published: Oct 4, 1991. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO composed investment in Japanese and Australian aerospace vehicle research and technological development efforts with the joint Department of Defense (DOD) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) National Aero-Space Plane (NASP) Program.

GAO found that: (1) Japan has not officially approved a plan to build an aerospace plane, although it has been conducting feasibility studies and developing critical technologies primarily to achieve autonomy; (2) neither Japan nor the United States have officially approved a plan to build an aerospace plane; (3) Australia has not developed a national aerospace plane program, although it has been developing subsystems for future aerospace vehicles and its facilities have been used to test various U.S. aerospace vehicles; (4) because of its more technologically challenging NASP Program the U.S. has been ahead of Japan in hypersonic aerospace plane technologies, although Japan has been making a more determined effort to challenge U.S. superiority in hypersonics; (5) between fiscal years (FY) 1986 and 1990 the U.S. government and industry invested almost $1.8 billion in the NASP Program, whereas Japan had only invested about $150.4 million between FY 1982 and 1990 in various aerospace plane studies; (6) Japan's rate of progress in refurbishing and modifying old facilities and building new ones has been significantly greater than that of the U.S., although it still needs more trained personnel and better test facility instruments before it will have adequate support for testing aerospace planes; (7) Japanese government and industry officials believe that developing an aerospace plane will ultimately require an international effort, because of the extensive technological requirements, tremendous costs, and lack of adequate test facilities; (8) combining national interests, expertise, approaches, funding and sharing of test facilities in a major international collaborative effort could be competitive with the NASP Program; and (9) Australia represents no present commercial threat to the U.S. in aerospace vehicle development.

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