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Politics

Japan to propel private sector's liftoff into space

Government will help limit financial risks, assist promising startups

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An H-2A rocket lifts off from the Tanegashima Space Center to launch a Japanese spy satellite.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan will support private companies' push into the space business by facilitating public lending and offering assistance to cover financial damages from catastrophic accidents.

Under a space business plan to be compiled in May, Tokyo will set up a system designed to limit risks associated with operating satellites. Currently, a program combining private insurance and government guarantees helps cover liabilities resulting from rocket launches. This program would be expanded to cover accidents in space, such as satellite collisions. 

There are already thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth. If a newly launched satellite hits another in the crowded field, the responsible party could face a huge damage claim. Britain and the Netherlands already have legal frameworks to help such companies, prompting some startups to move to those countries.

Related legislation will be submitted to the 2018 ordinary Diet session at the earliest.

The Japanese government also plans to identify and assist promising startups by holding a space business contest. Those deemed promising will be introduced to public lenders and venture capital firms.

The plans also include setting up more launchpads for small satellites, for which demand is surging in the private sector. Currently only the Tanegashima and Uchinoura space centers in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima have such facilities. The government will start accepting applications from localities willing to host space centers.

The global space business is estimated at $200 billion, with startups with unique ideas drawing investments. Astroscale of Singapore is set to launch a small satellite for removing space debris as soon as early 2019. SpaceX of the U.S. has unveiled plans to launch more than 4,000 satellites into space to provide internet connections worldwide.

(Nikkei) 

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