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ANA and Marubeni join to build spaceport in Japan

3-km runways for airplane-style craft will open as early as 2021

A rendering of a spacecraft under development by ANA and PD Aerospace. The airline and its partners aim to build a space travel hub with runways for horizontal takeoff.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- All Nippon Airways operator ANA Holdings and trading house Marubeni will set up a spaceport in Japan as early as 2021, Nikkei has learned.

The launch site, equivalent to a seaport for ships or an airport for aircraft, will be for private space travel, and feature 3-km runways for craft that take off horizontally like airplanes.

There are already around 10 spaceports in the U.S. for commercial use, some built for the purpose and others converted from airports. The Japanese corporate alliance aims to secure a foothold in the international space-business race by building Asia's first space travel hub.

The two companies, together with four other partners -- including Airbus Japan, satellite broadcaster Sky Perfect JSAT and real estate company Mitsui Fudosan -- have established a company named Spaceport Japan to advance the project. The Tokyo-based team will begin work on Friday.

Japan's second woman to go to space, former astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, serves as representative director of Spaceport Japan. Down the road, major builders and other companies will be invited to join.

Spaceport Japan will begin by working with local and national government bodies to select a spaceport site.

It will also participate in international conferences to discuss topics like safety standards. The partners are expected to set up a stock company to build and operate the facility once work is ready to begin. The first spaceport is likely to have an adjoining training facility.

ANA Holdings has been working to strengthen its hand in space-related businesses through measures such as investment in Japanese spacecraft development startups. Sky Perfect also appears to be on the hunt for business opportunities in the space field.

Gaps in the law are a hurdle, however. A space activities law that took full effect Thursday spelled out authorization and liability frameworks for the launching and management of satellites, but it does not cover manned spacecraft. Since vessels at the spaceport will use rocket engines, they probably will fall outside aviation law. Japan does not have a government authorization process for spaceports.

Sky Perfect "will request the preparation of appropriate laws," said Mihoko Shintani, a lawyer affiliated with the company.

In the U.S., the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 allowed commercial human space flight, on the condition that passengers themselves held full responsibility. The U.K. passed its own space industry bill this year.

Some U.S. spaceports are operated by their home states in efforts to jump-start local economies. Virgin Galactic, a U.S. subsidiary of the Virgin Group, aims to start commercial operations out of a spaceport in the state of New Mexico. Spaceports are planned for the U.K., Italy and Spain as well.

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