Outer space used to be the exclusive territory of the national government. But now an increasing number of both major companies and startups are looking for business opportunities there. What are the factors that are drawing them to the space business?
Strong potential for satellite data
Synspective is a company located in the Fukagawa district of Tokyo’s historic downtown that specializes in satellite launch and data analysis. Established in 2018, the space venture company has pulled in 10.9 billion yen in less than two years from various sources including investment funds.
Synspective plans to launch its first satellite for demonstration trials by the end of this year and put a total of six satellites in orbit by 2022. Using all six will make it possible to monitor every major city in Asia once a day. Radar sent from the satellites to the ground will bounce back to the satellites’ antenna, revealing gaps between buildings and shifts in geological features.
Although this kind of data is not familiar to many people, taking accurate daily measurements of slight discrepancies in buildings and shifts in land that are hard to detect with the human eye may have a potential for generating profit in the real estate and investment businesses. CEO Motoyuki Araki says, “We are currently in discussions with approximately ten companies about businesses that could utilize this data.”
SKY Perfect TV, a subscription-based satellite broadcaster, has started ground surveillance operations in collaboration with construction engineering firm Nippon Koei Co. in which satellites are used to detect sinking runways and shifting riverbeds so that the data can be applied to infrastructure maintenance and disaster prevention.
JAXA employees participate in space business
Encouraged by the vibrant space business in the U.S., Japan has turned to space as part of the country’s growth strategy.
In 2016, the Japanese government enacted two pieces of legislation that aimed to promote the space business, such as the “Regulation for Enforcement of the Act on Launching of Spacecraft, etc. and Control of Spacecraft.” The laws require firms that launch and operate satellites to obtain government approval. In case of accidents. the firms must adhere to the government’s compensation guidelines. Rules on appropriate management of acquired data are stipulated as well.
In FY2018, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) added “encouraging space business” to the list of key objectives in its medium- to long-term plan for the first time. With the agency’s support, seven enterprises have been launched so far by JAXA employees. Hiroyuki Iwamoto, who leads JAXA’s Business Development and Industrial Relations Department, says, “The future of the space business depends on new ideas regarding the use of data collected from space.” (Abridged)