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Japan Space Industry Commercialization

Japan’s space industry offers market opportunities as firms begin international collaboration with innovators, and development of cutting-edge technologies.

Japan’s space industry is known for applying its world-class industrial and technological skills in research and development (R&D). Now, Japan’s space industry is turning its focus from R&D to the commercialization of space technology.  The Government of Japan (GOJ) and local industry players are taking steps to help support and facilitate development and growth. International cooperation between the U.S. and Japan started in 1969 with exchange of a “Japan-U.S. Joint Communique” on cooperation in space development. Since then, Japan has participated in several international projects in collaboration with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). U.S. firms are now aiming to expand opportunities in the Japanese market as the domestic industry undertakes international projects and develops indigenous technological capabilities.

Basic Plan on Space Policy

Japan has developed a Basic Plan on Space Policy, which is implemented by the National Space Policy Secretariat in the Cabinet Office and several government ministries, including those responsible for science and technology (MEXT), communications (MIC), industry (METI), and defense (MOD). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which has most of its budget under MEXT, is the central agency responsible for implementing Japan’s government funded space activities, including technology development.

Japan’s Space-related Activities

  • Next-generation Launch Vehicle (H3): Japan is currently developing its new flagship launch vehicle, called the H3, which aims to remain one of the most reliable launchers in the world but become less expensive to be more competitive in the global launch market.   The first H3 launch is scheduled in the later part of Fiscal Year (FY) 2021.
  • International Space Station: In the early part of 2020 Japanese Astronaut Soichi Noguchi traveled to the International Space Station (ISS) as the first Japanese astronaut to fly on a U.S. commercial spacecraft, the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Following Noguchi, Japanese Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide flew to the ISS in April of this year and is currently still onboard the station.  Hoshide is serving as only Japan’s second ISS Commander. 
  • U.S. – Led Artemis Program: NASA and JAXA have signed an agreement for Japan to provide significant contributions to the Artemis program, which plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface in a sustainable way within the next decade and build a Lunar Gateway to orbit the Moon. In return, Japan is hoping to be the first non-U.S. nation to land an astronaut on the Moon by using NASA’s Space Launch Systems crew vehicle. 
  • Commercial Space Debris Removal: Working with industry, JAXA is taking a comprehensive approach to reduce the amount of new space debris and maintain the stable use of space. In 2020, JAXA selected private space company Astroscale to send a spacecraft into orbit to inspect discarded space debris, which could be an important technological demonstration to pave the way for a future debris-removal mission.
  • Lunar Surface Exploration: Japan plans to launch the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) in FY2022 and this mission will play an important role to select astronaut landing sites on the South Pole of the Moon. JAXA is also continuing investigation into the Lunar Polar Exploration Mission Launch (LUPEX) in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). LUPEX launch target date is FY2023.  

Market Prospects and Players

In 2019, the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies reports that space industry had sales of 343.1 billion yen (over $3 billion). By value, major subsectors were space vehicles (81%), followed by ground facilities (10%) and software (9%).  The market is dominated by four main players: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which makes solid fuel rockets; IHI Aerospace, liquid-propellant rockets; and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO) and NEC Space Technologies. These are supported by venture capital-backed startups such as Astroscale (debris removal demonstrations and missions), iSpace (developing lunar rovers and landers), Axelspace (launching a constellation of microsatellites for Earth observation), and GITAI (building robots to conduct activities in space).

Collaboration with the U.S. is key to Japan’s activities. Cooperation extends to various areas that Japan is undertaking including earth science, human spaceflight, space science, aeronautics research, space security, and space exploration. Generally, U.S. manufacturers exporting products to Japan have partnered with Japanese agents, distributors, or trading firms at least in the early stages of their approach to the market. Japanese users are known to expect good customer service, including after-sale service complete with spare parts, maintenance, and repair.  U.S. companies should work closely with partners to construct networks in Japan to provide these services.

For more information, please contact Sayoko.Koto@trade.gov, Aerospace and Defense sector.

08/26/2021