TAKEHIRO HASEGAWA, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO — Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co. is investing in Axiom Space, a U.S. startup that aims to put a commercial station into orbit intended as a successor to the International Space Station, Nikkei has learned.
Axiom envisions the outpost being launched as early as 2024. Mitsui’s involvement opens the door to Japanese participation in the station.
As the space business moves away from government-dominated projects to those led by the private sector, Mitsui aims to expand its earnings from the sector through its relationship with Axiom.
Mitsui will acquire tens of millions of dollars in convertible bonds that are to become preferred shares once Axiom completes a round of funding by the end of 2022. The deal appears to be Axiom’s first capital alliance with a commercial group.
Axiom was formed in 2016, with a former NASA manager among the founders. NASA selected the startup last year to install additional modules on the ISS.
Mitsui offers a global network to help Axiom generate commercial demand for its space station. The partners also will consider eventually adding a Japanese module.
The essentially zero-gravity environment of space serves a wide range of business opportunities, from cell-based regenerative medicine and materials development to communications and entertainment. The station also would double as a hotel.
The ISS is used by astronauts from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Russia and elsewhere, but the aging structure is due to be decommissioned as early as 2025.
Japan has an experiment module nicknamed Kibo attached to the ISS. The station’s planned retirement means the loss of a low-orbit area to conduct experiments. Mitsui sees the partnership with Axiom as a path for Japan to maintain and expand the domestic space industry.
Mitsui won a contract in 2018 from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, to launch miniature satellites from the Kibo module. In 2020, Mitsui bought Spaceflight, a U.S.-based satellite ride-share service provider.