The Japanese government is looking to tap demand among emerging countries for small-satellite launches by developing low-cost services with the private sector, a major business daily here reported Thursday.
The Cabinet Office is drawing up plans with an eye on Vietnam, Thailand and other Southeast Asian markets, where demand to launch disaster-monitoring satellites is expected to increase, the Nikkei Shimbun said. This will likely lead to public-private sales and production from next fiscal year with a goal of handling four or so launches a year starting in fiscal 2017, the newspaper said.
NEC Corp., IHI Corp. and the state-owned Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency aim to halve the cost of developing and launching small satellites to slightly less than JPY 10 billion (USD 115 million).
Since this would give Japan enough of an edge to compete against the US and Europe, the government has decided to help the aerospace industry bolster its presence in a global market estimated at JPY 13 trillion (USD 149 billion) a year. NEC will invest around JPY 10 billion (USD 115 million) to construct a large plant at its production base in Tokyo, which will be able to simultaneously build eight small satellites weighing 1.2 tons each. It will also boast a large facility for conducting all necessary testing on-site. By also standardizing downlink equipment and other key components, NEC believes that it will be able to build a small satellite 20 percent or so cheaper at roughly JPY 6-8 billion (USD 69-92 million).
These are expected to be sent into orbit using the Epsilon rocket, for which the space agency and IHI Aerospace Co. are working toward a first test launch this summer.
They aim to slash costs by more than two-thirds through employing technologies used in the H-2A rocket. By also embracing automation in the launch process and simplifying inspection and control operations, the two also aim to reduce the time needed to prepare to six days -- just one-seventh of what it takes now.
All these improvements are expected to lower launch costs to less than JPY 3 billion (USD 34 million) by fiscal 2017.