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Japan must look again at space-market strategy

With China making plans to get back into the world’s satellite-launching market, it is time Japan reviewed its strategy on the business. Lagging behind other countries in the rocket-launching business, Japan aims to enter the market with a lineup of midsize GX rockets developed by the private sector. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency also has plans for a new large rocket, and continues to offer the existing H-2A model. However, it would be extremely difficult for Japan to compete with the relatively inexpensive rockets from Russia and China. Japan plans to review its space business strategy, giving serious thought to whether it would be beneficial for Japan to enter the market for commercial satellite launches, where competition is fierce, and set to get fiercer.

A Chinese Long March rocket carrying an Intelsat communications satellite exploded immediately after launch in February 1996, resulting in a large number of casualties on the ground. Learning from this lesson, China has improved its space technology, bringing its successful launch rate to about 90 percent, nearing the world’s top level.

According to the Institute of Future Technology, a Tokyo-based think tank familiar with Chinese technological development, Beijing is eager to return to the market for commercial satellite launches. It is a business that could earn the country a large amount of foreign currency, leading officials to press the United States to relax its export controls policy.
Long March rockets have not only proved highly reliable, but also highly cost efficient, just as Chinese-made domestic appliances have become increasingly dominant in the world market.

A Long March rocket launch costs about 6 billion yen, which compares well with the 8.5 billion yen cost of launching one of Japan’s H-2A rockets.