A New Direction For Japan’s Space Program?

By Paul Kallender-Umezu
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Industry's reaction to all of this appears to range from stress to relief to anxiety. Masaru Uji, a general manager at the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies, says QZSS and Asean network programs will provide steady, long-term business for Japan's two satellite integrators: Mitsubishi Electric, which is supplying its DS2000 bus for the QZSS; and NEC Corp., with its METI-funded 300-kg-class multipurpose Asnaro bus for the network.

The aerospace trade association figures show that for 2011, Japan's total space sales—both overseas and domestic, and including all subcontractor revenues—amounted to only ¥265 billion ($2.7 billion). That is down from a peak of ¥379 billion in 1998, with overseas commercial sales accounting for only the low teens in revenue and JAXA programs taking the lion's share of domestic business.

The Basic Plan “is moving in the right direction. You can't build a business without infrastructure,” says Satoshi Tsuzukibashi, director of the Industrial Technology Bureau at Keidanren, Japan's most powerful business lobby.

Uji is particularly pleased for NEC, which has been awarded a so-called private finance initiative to develop the QZSS ground segment, spreading steady payments to the company for at least the next 15 years. Anticipating the Basic Plan this January, NEC announced a ¥9.9 billion investment in a new 9,000-sq.-meter (97,000-sq.-ft.) satellite facility in Fuchu, west of Tokyo, to build a fleet of Asnaro satellites, which it also hopes to market commercially under the Nextar brand, says Yasuo Horiuchi, senior manager of NEC's satellite business development office.

Similarly, Mitsubishi Electric said in March that it completed a doubling of its satellite production capacity to eight buses annually at its Kamakura Works. Having already sold four of the 13 DS2000-based satellites to commercial satellite services customers, increased volume spurred by the QZSS program will create further efficiencies and cost competitiveness, says Executive Director Eiichi Hikima.

MHI may face a different challenge, however. Ryo Nakamura, director of H-2A-2B launch services in the company's Space Systems Div., says an improved H-IIA may gain one commercial contract in 2015-16. This may convince ONSP to fund the H-X (or H-3), whose first stage was supposed to use an LE-X engine with a high-thrust expander bleed cycle. Before the Basic Plan, the rocket was slated in JAXA's road map to undergo the first of its three test launches around 2018. Hidemasa Nakanishi, manager of strategy and planning at the Space Systems Div., thinks it is Japan's duty as an advanced spacefaring nation to complete its participation in the International Space Station, thus learning pressurized return technologies through the HTV-R.

JAXA's Sasaki points out that nothing has been cut yet, and JAXA is going to battle to preserve as much of its “traditional” programs as it can in the relevant subcommittees though the spring. Key decisions will come in June.

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