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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.