The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has formulated the outline of a plan to develop the next-generation space transport for the 2030s and 2040s.
Currently, the government is developing a new type of rocket, the “H3,” to replace the H2A, with a launch date by the end of FY 2021. The launch of the H3 will cost approximately 5 billion yen, about half of the cost to launch the H2A.
The outline focuses on development programs beyond the H3. Considering the advancement of use of space in the 2040s, the government established in the fall of 2020 an expert panel to discuss the next generation rocket. In June 2021, the panel finalized a roadmap that describes two pillars of Japan’s rocket development.
The first pillar is a next-generation low-cost spacecraft that incorporates knowledge acquired from the operation of the H2A and the H3. Its development is led by the government. The H3 will be developed on the assumption that strong demand for satellite launches will continue for the foreseeable future. The government aims to launch the H3 around 2030. Special emphasis will be placed on launching spacecraft into low orbits used by satellites, stationary orbits, and to the Moon. The U.S. space initiative “Artemis Program,” which will send a manned spacecraft to the Moon for the first time in half a century, is expected to boost demand for the launches.
The new rocket will be a “reusable type” that will be recovered for a later launch to reduce the cost by half to make it more internationally competitive.
The second pillar in the outline is a private-sector-led space passenger plane to be developed in the early 2040s.
Space travel is expected to grow into a large market. MEXT estimates that suborbital point-to-point rapid transit in which aircraft fly at altitudes bordering on space (about 100 kilometers) in and out of Japan could grow into a 5.2 trillion-yen market by 2040.
MEXT hopes to promote standardization and mass production of parts by incorporating the technology created at the government lead into private-sector development, thereby reducing the cost of future launches to one-tenth of the amount that was necessary to launch the H3. (Abridged)