TOKYO A startup founded by maverick Japanese entrepreneur Takafumi Horie is poised to launch a test rocket as early as January. If successful, it will be Japan's first private rocket to reach an altitude of 100km.
Interstellar Technologies, based in the country's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, aims to launch a compact satellite into orbit by 2020, and will use the data from the upcoming test flight to make technical improvements to its rockets.
Only state-sponsored projects -- involving the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency along with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries or other players -- have hitherto succeeded in launching rockets.
Horie -- best known for an accounting scandal at internet company Livedoor, where he was CEO -- set up Interstellar in the hope of making a breakthrough for private spaceflight. The space business is now led by CEO Takahiro Inagawa.
The ethanol-powered sounding rocket measures 9.9 meters long and 0.5 meter in diameter. Although it delivers less thrust, ethanol is cheaper and less toxic than hydrazine, a popular rocket fuel.
The company says it has managed to reduce costs to hundreds of thousands of dollars by combining conventional technologies.
Once it is launched from an Interstellar facility in the Hokkaido town of Taiki, the rocket will fly for about four minutes, topping out at 100km, before parachuting down into the Pacific Ocean. Measuring equipment on the rocket will be collected for analysis.
In November, Japan's Diet approved the Space Activities Act to regulate space-related commercial activity and make it easier for private companies to get into the space industry.