Tag Archives: Japan

Japan’s space agency to build reusable rocket

Japan’s space agency JAXA revealed today that it plans to build a reusable rocket capable of launching twice in two days, with the first test launch now scheduled for 2019.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to build a rocket that can carry observation equipment into space, return to Earth, and be ready for launch again the next day. JAXA aims to start test-launching and landing the roughly 7-meter rocket as early as the spring of 2019, and introduce it for regular operations in the 2020s.

JAXA has already confirmed that the rocket’s key components, including its engine, can endure more than 100 launches, significantly reducing costs compared with single-use models.

I hate to be such a spoilsport, but I have little faith they will do this on the schedule claimed. This story reads like the dozens I’ve read over the past three decades from Russia and NASA, where they repeatedly announce the coming development of some new rocket or manned space project, none of which ever happens.

In other words, this story is nothing more than a bit of government propaganda, trying to convince the Japanese public that JAXA is cutting edge, that they too are going to build reusable rockets, and that they can do it quickly. In reality, I doubt we shall see this government-built reusable rocket anytime soon.

The fact that they have issued this claim however is a good sign. Japan’s lumbering and expensive government space agency is now finding itself under pressure to deliver, and the competition that is causing that pressure might very well force them to streamline their operations and actually accomplish something.

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Japan creates $1 billion fund for private space start-ups

The new colonial movement: Japan’s government has created a $940 million fund that will be used to help new space companies get started.

The funds will be made available through investments and loans over the next five years, as part of a government-led initiative to double Japan’s more than $11 billion space industry. With less than 20 Japanese space start-ups currently operating, many see this as critical to helping new companies cover costs such as research or applying for patents. “We believe this will be remembered as a turning point for our burgeoning industry,” Takeshi Hakamada, CEO and founder of lunar exploration start-up ispace, said in a statement.

Ispace has received government backing in the past, including during a recent $90.2 million round of funding that included Suzuki Motor and Japan Airlines. Founded seven years ago, ispace is stepping beyond the Google-backed Lunar XPRIZE competition to fund two exploration missions to the moon, with the first by the end of 2019 and the second by the end of 2020.

The Japanese government is setting up an agency to manage the funds and connect start-ups with local talent from organizations such as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or the rocket-building arm of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Initially, start-ups will be eligible to each receive about $100,000 in aid to help present concepts to investors. Promising ventures and more mature companies will be able to tap into the rest of the $940 million fund to further development.

More details here.

The most interesting aspect however of this new effort is the decision by Japan to also review its space law in order to encourage private ownership in space.

Japan also announced it is considering new laws and policies that would allow businesses to own plots of land developed on the moon, in a similar manner to the laws passed by the United States and Luxembourg. So far, the U.S. and Luxembourg are the only two countries in the world to have passed laws giving corporations ownership of materials mined in space, but only after they’ve been extracted. That legal framework has seen the tiny European country attract dozens of space companies, with another 70 space companies looking to establish in Luxembourg, according to Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider.

They will find, as have the U.S. and Luxembourg as well as UAE, the United Kingdom, and a number of other countries that have reviewed the Outer Space Treaty, that this legal framework under this treaty will not work well, and still leaves the ownership rights of private companies very vulnerable. To protect property rights in space, either the Outer Space Treaty has to be changed to allow the establishment of national borders and laws, or dumped entirely.

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Hayabusa-2 spots its target asteroid

In anticipation of a rendezvous later this year, Japan’s Hayabusa-2 space probe this week made its first visual detection of its target asteroid, Ryugu.

The data and images confirm that the spacecraft is on the correct course for a mid-year arrival, followed by a year and a half of observations using its ion engine.

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Japan successfully launches reconnaissance satellite

Japan’s space agency JAXA today successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite for the Japanese government.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the H-2A rocket’s main contractor, did not provide a live video webcast of the mission. But news media and other spectators near the launch pad streamed the launch live online, and announcements over loudspeakers at the Tanegashima press site confirmed separation of the IGS Optical 6 satellite in orbit.

The spacecraft’s specifications, including its imaging performance, are kept secret by the Japanese government. But the government has acknowledged the satellite will join a fleet of Information Gathering Satellites operated by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which reports directly to the Japanese government’s executive leadership.

The leaders in the 2018 launch standings:

7 China
4 SpaceX
3 Japan
2 ULA
2 Russia

There have been 21 launches in the first two months, continuing January’s pace that suggests we will see more than a hundred launches in 2018, the highest number since 1990.

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Japan’s newest rocket puts tiny satellite in orbit

Japan today successfully launched a cubesat into orbit using a redesigned suborbital rocket flying its second test flight.

Standing just 31 feet (9.5 meters) tall and spanning around 20 inches (52 centimeters) in diameter, the SS-520-5 rocket was modest by launcher standards. With Saturday’s successful flight, the solid-fueled booster became the smallest rocket to ever put an object in orbit around Earth. A student-built shoebox-sized CubeSat named TRICOM 1R — weighing in at about 10 pounds (3 kilograms) — was mounted on top of the SS-520-5 rocket for liftoff from the Uchinoura Space Center in Japan’s Kagoshima prefecture.

This rocket, built by Japan’s space agency JAXA, is only a test vehicle. There are no plans to offer it as a commercial product, the agency hopes it will serve as a model that private companies can use to build their own. This approach might work, but it reminds me too much of many past and similar NASA projects, which once completed then vanished, with no real world utilization.

The 2018 launch standings:

6 China
2 SpaceX
2 ULA
2 Japan

I have dropped listing the countries that so far only have one launch.

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Japan’s Epsilon rocket successfully launches radar satellite

Japan today successfully completed its first launch of 2018, placing an experimental radar satellite into orbit that was built under a new cost saving approach.

The ASNARO satellites are designed to be small, lightweight spacecraft with masses around 900-1,300 pounds (400-600 kilograms) with a common spacecraft bus largely built from commercial-off-the-shelf parts and interchangeable payload sections. This commonality is designed to reduce cost and simplify mission planning and preparation.

Epsilon itself is also designed under the same approach. Both are part of Japan’s effort to streamline its space industry to make it more competitive.

The launch standings:

3 China
1 SpaceX
1 ULA
1 India
1 Japan

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Japan’s Google Lunar X-Prize rover arrives in India for launch

Capitalism in space: The rover being built by the Japanese team competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize has arrived in India for installation on the PSLV rocket that will launch it into space.

The Sorato rover which is flight ready will be mounted on Team Indus lander at its facility in Jakkur. HAKUTO, one of the five teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, has signed a ride share agreement with Team Indus (India’s first private aerospace startup) for launching the Sorato along with the Indian rover.

Team Indus’s spacecraft, along with the two rovers, will also carry a few payloads and will be launched onboard ISRO’s workhorse, the PSLV-XL. The launch is expected to take place early next year (before March 8, 2018, the date set by Google to the five privately funded teams to launch the landers and the rovers on the Moon surface).

Several important details here. First, though the Japanese team appears to have all the necessary funds to pay for their flight, Team Indus is still searching for investment, and might not have the money to pay for its share of the flight. What will happen in that case is unclear.

Second, the word Hakuto in Japan means “white rabbit.” This name was chosen because Japanese folklore says a rabbit can be seen in the dark areas of the Moon’s face. This makes Japan’s rover the second rabbit to fly to the moon, after China’s Yutu rover, which in English means “jade rabbit” a name also based on Chinese folklore.

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Japan to make second launch attempt of world’s smallest orbital rocket

JAXA, Japan’s space agency, has announced that it will make a second launch attempt in December of what would be the world’s smallest orbital rocket.

The rocket, measuring 10 meters long and 50 cm in diameter, will carry a “micro-mini” satellite weighing about 3 kg developed by the University of Tokyo to collect imagery of the Earth’s surface.

The launch scheduled for Dec. 25 will feature the fifth rocket in the SS-520 series. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is hoping small rockets made with commercially available components at low cost will help fuel the growing global demand for micro-mini satellites. JAXA used components found in home electronics and smartphones for the rocket, which is about the size of a utility pole.

The previous launch failed when vibrations during liftoff caused a short-circuit that cut off communications, forcing them to terminate the flight.

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Physicists shrink their next big accelerator

Because of high costs and a refocus in research goals, physicists have reduced the size of their proposed next big particle accelerator, which they hope will be built in Japan.

On 7 November, the International Committee for Future Accelerators (ICFA), which oversees work on the ILC, endorsed halving the machine’s planned energy from 500 to 250 gigaelectronvolts (GeV), and shortening its proposed 33.5-kilometre-long tunnel by as much as 13 kilometres. The scaled-down version would have to forego some of its planned research such as studies of the ‘top’ flavour of quark, which is produced only at higher energies.

Instead, the collider would focus on studying the particle that endows all others with mass — the Higgs boson, which was detected in 2012 by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland.

Part of the reason for these changes is that the Large Hadron Collider has not discovered any new particles, other than the Higgs Boson. The cost to discover any remaining theorized particles was judged as simply too high. Better to focus on studying the Higgs Boson itself.

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Japanese metal manufacturer faked specifications to hundreds of companies

Holy moly! Kobe Steel, a major Japanese supplier of steel and other metals worldwide, has admitted that it faked the specifications to metals shipped to hundreds of companies over the past decade.

Last week, Kobe Steel admitted that staff fudged reports on the strength and durability of products requested by its clients—including those from the airline industry, cars, space rockets, and Japan’s bullet trains. The company estimated that four percent of aluminum and copper products shipped from September 2016 to August 2017 were falsely labelled, Automotive News reported.

But on Friday, the company’s CEO, Hiroya Kawasaki, revealed the scandal has impacted about 500 companies—doubling the initial count—and now includes steel products, too. The practice of falsely labeling data to meet customer’s specifications could date back more than 10 years, according to the Financial Times.

For rockets the concern is less serious as they generally are not built for a long lifespan, but for airplanes and cars this news could be devastating, requiring major rebuilds on many operating vehicles.

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Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket launches Japanese GPS satellite

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket today successfully launched Japan’s Michibiki 4 GPS satellite.

So far that is three launches today alone. And if all goes right, SpaceX will do another launch two days from now, putting it back in a tie with Russia for most launches in 2017 at 15.

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Mitsubishi wins launch contract from Inmarsat

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi has been awarded a commercial launch contract from Inmarsat.

Recent Inmarsat satellites have launched on Proton, Falcon 9, and Ariane 5 rockets operated by International Launch Services, SpaceX and Arianespace. MHI [Mitsubishi Heavy Industries] has positioned the H-2A as a secondary player in the global launch market, and the Inmarsat 6 F1 contract gives the Japanese company its second commercial telecom launch deal after the Canadian-owned Telstar 12 Vantage satellite lifted off from Tanegashima in November 2015.

Japan has made noises about shifting control of its launch industry from its space agency JAXA to the private sector. This new contract between Mitsubishi and Inmarsat suggests that they are following through with that shift. However, though no specific price was mentioned in the article, the quote below indicates that Mitsubishi will have a big hill to climb to become competitive.

“The reason why we got the launch order from Inmarsat, I think, was not, of course, the cost-competitiveness of the H-2A launch vehicle, but I think our launch record is very good — 35 consecutive successes, high reliability — and another is on-time launch,” [Ko Ogasawara, Mitsubishi vice president] said in remarks last week at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris. “We keep our schedule, and I think they put a high value on that.”

Mitsubishi’s next generation rocket, the H3, is being targeted for a launch price of $50 million, half of what the H-2A charges and more competitive in today’s market.

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New Generation looks to establish private spaceport

Capitalism in space The new private partnership led by Canon, dubbed New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning, is now searching for a location to build its own private spaceport in order to bypass restrictions placed on launches at Japan’s two government launch sites.

While JAXA can launch at any time during the year, the deal with the local fishing council limits the number of launches per year to 17, and requires JAXA to coordinate its launches for the year with that council. For New Generation, which wants to compete in the smallsat rocket business and will thus likely need to launch dozens, if not hundreds, of times per year, this arrangement won’t work.

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Akatsuki finds super-rotating equatorial jet on Venus

Japan’s Venus orbiter Akatsuki has discovered a previously unseen equatorial jet with wind speeds that often exceed 200 miles per hour.

The winds, named “equatorial jet” by the research team, were found from July to August 2016 when an infrared camera captured images of areas about 45 to 60 kilometers above the planet’s surface. The areas are invisible at optical wavelengths due to extremely dense clouds of sulfuric acid. The camera spotted thick clouds traveling at a speed of 288 kph to 324 kph near the planet’s equator.

Based on the news reports, it appears the significance of this discovery is that they identified a particular jet stream at a specific latitude. Previous observations did not have that resolution.

This would have been posted in the morning, but the internet access here in this Torrey hotel is almost as slow as what I experienced in Glacier. I had it written, but I sinply couldn’t get it to post this morning.

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Private Japanese company to test fly again by December

Capitalism in space: Interstellar Technologies, the private Japanese rocket company attempting to enter the launch market with a low cost suborbital rocket, will attempt a second test flight before the end of the year.

Their first test flight failed to reach space when they had a communications problem and had to terminate the mission early.

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Japan’s beginning shift to commercial space

Link here. The article provides a good sense of the state of Japan’s private space industry, which at this moment is generally restricted one company, Interstellar Technologies, and its as yet unsuccessful effort to launch a suborbital rocket. The following quote however helps explain why Japan has been unable to interest anyone in buying its H-2A rocket for commercial launches.

Launch costs associated with Japan’s main H-2A rocket are about ¥10 billion per launch (about $90 million), so miniature satellites often ride together with bigger satellites. A period of 50 days is required between launches, meaning the number of launches is low in Japan compared to countries including the United States, Europe, Russia, China and India. Large satellites are given priority in the launch schedule, so it is often difficult to choose a launch window for miniature satellites. [emphasis mine]

I think the $90 million price is a significant reduction from what JAXA used to charge. Fifty days to prep for launch however is ungodly slow.

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New Japanese private joint venture to enter smallsat rocket industry

Capitalism in space: A Japanese private joint venture has formed with the intent to compete in the new smallsat rocket industry.

The new company is led by President Shinichiro Ota, a former industry ministry bureaucrat and once the head of the Japan Patent Office. NGSRDP will initially be based at Canon Electronics’ headquarters, studying technologies and costs with the hope of starting commercial operations as early as this year.

The joint venture has set a price point of 1 billion yen ($9.1 million) or less per launch — an amount seen as competitive against overseas rivals. At present, plans call for a rocket smaller than the Epsilon rocket currently under development by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, but larger than JAXA’s SS-520 minirocket.

The four companies had been discussing formation of a small rocket company for about three years. President Ota has said that the “time is ripe” for the joint venture. IHI Aerospace has played a key role in the development of Epsilon, while Canon Electronics has been involved in the SS-520 project.

I would say that this is a clear sign that the competition in the smallsat rocket industry is definitely heating up.

Note that the name of this new joint venture, New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning (NGSRDP), is quite horrible. I hope they come up with something better soon for marketing purposes.

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Japanese launch scrubbed due to problem with rocket

Japan’s space agency JAXA scrubbed a Saturday launch of a GPS satellite because of a possible leak in the H2-A rocket’s helium pressurization system.

The Japanese have not released much information. However, the problem might be more serious than normal, because the rocket was still on the launchpad on Sunday, almost a day after the launch itself was scrubbed. Normally when a launch is scrubbed they move quickly to safe the rocket and get it back into the assembly building to assess the issue. That the rocket was not moved suggests they might be having a problem doing this.

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Japanese private rocket launch terminates early due of communication failure

Capitalism in space: The first launch of the first privately-built and funded Japanese suborbital rocket was terminated early today because of a communications failure.

The rocket’s developers, Interstellar Technologies, said they aborted the launch after about 80 seconds and it landed about 8 kilometers (5 miles) offshore. The aim had been to launch the rocket, called “Momo,” to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles), but it only traveled about 30-40 kilometers (19-25 miles).

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Japan’s first private rocket to launch this weekend

Capitalism in space: A company in Japan hopes to launch the first Japanese privately built suborbital rocket this coming weekend.

The rocket is small, but it uses liquid fueled engines, which gives the company the potential to scale it up to produce an orbital version, something they say they want to do by 2020.

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NASA and JAXA approve replacement of failed Japanese X-ray space telescope

NASA and JAXA have agreed to build a replacement for the Japanese Hitomi X-ray space telescope that failed after only a few weeks in orbit in March 2016.

The X-ray Astronomy Recovery Mission, or XARM, could launch as soon as March 2021, filling a potential gap in astronomers’ X-ray vision of the universe, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. NASA has agreed to a junior partner in XARM — pronounced “charm” — and supply X-ray telescopes and a spectrometer instrument for the Japanese-led mission, according to Paul Hertz, directory of NASA’s astrophysics division.

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ESA unveils dual orbiter mission to Mercury

After twenty years of development, the European Space Agency this week finally unveiled the completed dual orbiters that it hopes to launch on a seven year journey to Mercury in October 2018.

The 4,100-kilogram BepiColombo consists of two orbiters that will launch together — the ESA-managed Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the JAXA-owned Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The two spacecraft will be delivered to the orbit around Mercury stacked on top of each other by the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM). During the seven-year journey, the MMO will be shielded from the sun by the MMO Sunshield and Interface Structure (MOSIF), which will also serve as a mechanical and electrical interface between the two orbiters.

“MPO focuses on the planet, the surface and the interior size,” said Reininghous. “The orbit is a polar one — 480km times approximately 1500km — a little bit elliptical but extremely close to the planet as such with a return period of 2.3 hours. The data return is estimated at 1.5 gigabit per year.”

The MMO will focus on the planetary environment including the planet’s atmosphere, according to Reininghous. “The orbit is also polar but far more elliptical — 590 km times approximately 11,700 km. It has a period of 9.3 hours. The data return is approximately 10 percent of what we expect from the MPO.”

The European orbiter is much larger and more expensive, with Japanese probe budget being about a tenth the cost.

According to ESA, the mission took so long to build because in 2004, after about seven years of development, ESA suddenly realized that its orbiter’s thermal protection was inadequate, and required a complete redesign. To me, this is either outright incompetence (they knew from the start they were going to Mercury) or a clever way to extend the funding so that it provides an entire lifetime’s work for its builders. Think about it. Twenty-one years from concept to launch, then seven years to fly to Mercury, and then one to two years in orbit. That’s more than thirty years for this single mission.

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JAXA proposes Japan send humans to the Moon

The new colonial movement: Japan’s space agency JAXA has proposed that Japan participate in a lunar manned mission to be flown by the 2030s.

The report is very vague. It suggests that Japan create such a mission, but also do it as part of a larger international effort, which presently doesn’t even exist.

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Japan’s next rocket on schedule for 2020 launch

A new Japanese rocket, the H3, being built by Mitsubishi and designed to cut launch costs by half, is presently on schedule for debut in 2020.

Key quote from the article:

JAXA has given MHI a greater level of influence on the H3 than it did with the H-2A. Ogasawara said whereas the total launch vehicle design for the H-2A was JAXA’s responsibility, MHI’s role as prime contractor and vehicle integrator gives the company more creative freedom. He stressed, however, that JAXA is still directly involved in the design and development for certain key components. “Therefore, we work together, JAXA and MHI, very closely,” he said.

I don’t know how much of that claim is true. That they are making it though suggests that they have been strongly influenced by the shift in the U.S. from NASA-run projects to commercially-run projects.

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Japan begins testing new rocket engine

Capitalism in space: Japan has begun testing the rocket engine it will use in its next generation rocket.

The H-III will succeed the country’s current H-series rockets, H-IIA and H-IIB. The rocket will use commercially available components and a fuselage that can be mass produced, lowering launch costs to about half of the current price tag of approximately 10 billion yen ($88.6 million). The new, more powerful engine will allow the H-III to carry a midsize to large satellite weighing up to 6.5 tons — 60% more than the H-IIA.

If I understand this correctly, a launch with this new rocket will cost about $45 million, which will make it very competitive with SpaceX. At the same time, it is not as powerful, which means it will not serve the exact same customer base. Instead, its capacity makes it a direct competitor to India’s GSLV Mark III rocket.

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Japan aims for record 8 launches in 2017

Capitalism in space: If all goes as planned, Japan plans to launch a record of eight launches in a single year in 2017, partly because they will begin launch that nation’s own GPS satellite constellation.

Most of these satellites are government launches. Still, the number and in increase in launch pace indicates that Japan does not wish to be left behind in the increasing competition within the launch industry.

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Japan launches military satellite

Japan yesterday successfully launched a military surveillance satellite, dubbed the Information Gathering Satellite Radar 5 (IGS Radar-5).

Japan started the IGS program in 1998, presumably in response to North Korean missile tests around that time that sent missiles close to, or flying over, Japan.

In the years since, North Korea has repeatedly threatened to annihilate Japan (and South Korea and the United States), and continued to develop its nuclear-weapon and missile programs. The IGS satellites keep tabs on such efforts, help the Japanese government respond to natural disasters and perform several other functions, experts believe.

The first IGS craft lifted off in 2003. IGS Radar 5 is the 15th one in the program to take flight, though not all have made it to orbit. Two were lost to a launch failure in November 2003.

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Japan passes its own commercial space law

The competition heats up: Just as the U.S., Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and others have recently passed laws of clarify and encourage the private commercial development of space, Japan now done so as well, enacting its own commercial space law.

Now that Japan has adopted its Space Activities Act, start-ups are not left wondering what agency they should contact but can go in advance to discuss their plans with officials at a specially designated counter in the Cabinet Office. The new Japanese law also provides government support in the provision of financial guarantees required by commercial space launch operators, such as by arranging third-party liability insurance coverage. The required coverage is calculated on the basis of the maximum probable loss estimated in line with the rocket type and the payload content; in the case of damages in excess of this coverage, the law provides that the government is to pay for the residual damages up to a certain limit. This is similar to arrangements that have been adopted in the United States and France, although the French government sets no limit on payments.

In addition, Japan’s Space Activities Act provides that the launch operator bears liability for accident damages even if they are due to problems in the payload. This channeling of liability would seem to be disadvantageous to launch operators, but it can be expected to enhance the competitive position of the Japanese companies providing this service, because it reassures customers around the world who are seeking to have their satellites put into orbit. France is the only other country that has adopted a similar provision.

The article is worth reading in that it provides a good overview of the history of space law since the 1960s, as well as the political background that helps explain why Japan has lagged behind in the commercialization of its space industry.

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