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Focus: Japan space startups seeking to manage without Soyuz

  • June 30, 2022
  • , Jiji Press , 11:00 a.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, June 30 (Jiji Press)–Japanese startups developing and operating satellites are being forced to review their business strategies as they can not use Russian Soyuz rockets following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The number of small commercial satellite launches has been rising worldwide in line with the increasing use of data from space for such purposes as disaster prevention and agriculture.

The Japanese government also aims to develop a constellation of small satellites to gather information.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry forecasts the number of such satellite launches could total up to 2,400 in the five years from 2020.

Despite growing demand for rockets, sanctions over Russia’s aggression have effectively made it impossible to utilize Soyuz, which was used for 22 out of 136 successful rocket launches worldwide in 2021.

Tokyo-based rocket launch firm Space One Co., established jointly by firms including Canon Electronics Inc. <7739> and IHI Aerospace Co., foresees “a possible dearth of rockets.”

Among affected Japanese startups is Axelspace Corp., which is working to establish a constellation of small satellites, has decided to postpone until next year a plan to send up four satellites simultaneously. It has used Soyuz six times due to its “high reliability,” but is now considering using other rockets.

Synspective Inc., a Tokyo-based developer of a synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, which enables earth observation in bad weather, has decided to give up using Soyuz for a launch initially scheduled for this summer. The firm is aiming to conduct the launch this autumn, by commissioning a U.S. firm to undertake the launch.

Domestic rocket development projects are underway in Japan, but there was no launch of commercial satellites in the country in the three years to 2021. In order to meet brisk demand, it is said to be an urgent task to secure low-priced domestic rockets.

Regarding the current situation as a tailwind, Space One is accelerating development to launch its first rocket by the end of this year.

Interstellar Technologies Inc. plans a launch next year of its rocket for transporting satellites, aiming to offer a price tag that is an “order of magnitude cheaper,” according to President Takahiro Inagawa.

“We hope to meet demand by realizing a launch at an early time,” Inagawa said.

Along with the development of rockets, launch sites are being prepared across the country, raising expectations for low-priced space transportation and simplified procedures.

Space One plans to use a launch site in the town of Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, western Japan, while Interstellar has a base in Taiki in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.

A launch is also planned this year from Oita Airport in Kunisaki in the southwestern prefecture of Oita.

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