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Business

Japan's space industry charts leaner, cheaper course

Private companies, startups target commercially competitive launches with smaller rockets

The second of the Epsilon series of rockets waits to be assembled at a launch site. (Courtesy of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)

TOKYO -- Rocket development in Japan is getting lighter and leaner as more startups and private businesses enter the field. The industry, once dominated by government demand for large rockets, has seen an uptick in smaller, privately developed vehicles, with a number of projects now approaching the test-flight stage. Successful launches, as well as cost-cutting efforts, could put Japan's aerospace industry on track for commercial competitiveness.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to launch the third of its Epsilon series of rockets into space as early as this spring. The space agency and a subsidiary of heavy machinery maker IHI jointly developed the small solid-fuel rocket at a cost of some 20 billion yen ($173 million). The second generation of the Epsilon family was successfully launched in December.

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