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Japanese, US groups hook up in bid to use Oita Airport for space plane landings

  • March 1, 2022
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

BEPPU, Oita — Southwest Japan’s Oita Prefectural Government, a U.S. space plane developer and a Japanese trading company signed a partnership agreement on Feb. 26 as they hope to use Oita Airport for space plane landings.


Sierra Space Corp., based in the United States, is developing a space plane to deliver supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), and Kanematsu Corp., headquartered in Tokyo, is involved in the space business. For Sierra Space, which aims to start supply deliveries in 2023, this is the first collaboration with entities in Asia. If Oita Airport is officially chosen as a hub, the company aims to start landing space planes there in 2026.


Representatives from the three entities explained their plan at a news conference held in the Oita Prefecture city of Beppu on Feb. 27. The space plane, named “Dream Chaser,” is about 9 meters in length, and 11 metric tons in weight. It can carry some 6 tons of supplies.


Dream Chaser is unpowered, and will be attached to the tip of a rocket for launch. The plane will be detached from the rocket in space, and dock at the ISS. After leaving the space station, the aircraft will land horizontally back on Earth. The developer expects to reuse the space plane more than 10 times. Sierra Space also said that it wants to utilize Dream Chaser to bring back test samples to Earth from drug development experiments conducted on the ISS.


Sierra Space has chosen Oita Airport because it has a 3-kilometer runway and is a tourism and economic hub. According to the prefectural government and other sources, the Oita government was approached by Sierra Space through Kanematsu in around May 2021 to use the airport. The prefectural government intends to check safety, environmental effects and other factors, and will also assess the expected economic ripple effects of the project.


Oita Gov. Katsusada Hirose said in a speech: “I’m very glad that our prefecture’s build-up of industry and its tourism potential have been highly evaluated. I hope it will lead to inspiring children in various fields including education.”


Sierra Space’s Senior Vice President Steve Lindsey said that they were honored to be able to consider Oita Airport as one of the landing hubs for the space plane.


(Japanese original by Nao Ishii, Oita Bureau)

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