Japan wants to strengthen its space sector for a post-ISS world

Tokyo— The Japanese government is embarking on a major investment in the country’s burgeoning space sector to help it compete for global projects beyond the Asia-Pacific region, officials said at SPACETIDE, Asia’s largest commercial space conference.

“JAXA’s new funding features are designed to strongly promote commercial activity,” Jun Kezaki, director general of the National Space Policy Secretariat, told attendees. “We will support companies that have a solid, viable business plan.”

Rate: The government will allocate investments from a new fund of ¥1T ($6.2 billion) over the next decade to support private efforts. Last week, the government asked for initial proposals in areas such as lunar services and launch vehicles.

NASA Chief Economist Alexander MacDonald, who was at the event to promote the idea of ​​a public-private partnership, praised the program’s design and said it has the potential to provide significant funding for commercial low-Earth orbit missions in the coming years.

And the interest isn’t just coming from startups. “Moving from government to the commercial sector, we saw an opportunity there,” said Kohei Okamura, a Mitsubishi executive who is chief business development officer at Starlab, the space station joint venture his company joined earlier this year.

Execution matters: Astroscale CEO Nobu Okada told Payload that the companies need to make the most of the strategic fund, using the money to prepare for global competition because the Japanese domestic market is not large enough to sustain them.

“Using that money for R&D and selling to the global market will be great,” he said. “If every company is going to do just R&D and still focus on Japan, they’re going to have to look at that dynamic.”

Respect the work: Perhaps the biggest star of SPACETIDE was Koichi Wakata, a Japanese astronaut who has made five trips to the ISS.

Recently named Asia-Pacific technology director for Axiom Space, Wakata is helping the space station company forge a partnership with JAXA and is contributing his experience to the company’s efforts to develop spacesuits and other technologies. (He said he wouldn’t mind leading an all-Asian crewed mission to the ISS.)

Payload interrupted Wakata’s autograph seekers to ask what he thought of the government’s actions. He called the news exciting, noting that “Japan has accumulated a lot of experience (in LEO) and if the Japanese government doesn’t get involved, it will be a waste of time.”