The Yomiuri Shimbun -- Aiming to realize outer space travel operated by Japanese companies, the government and the private sector are working together to develop an environment to facilitate such an enterprise.
In the project, travelers will reach outer space at an altitude of 100 kilometers or higher by a small airplane-like craft and they will experience weightlessness for several minutes before returning to Earth. The government established a council to promote public-private cooperation for the project and its first meeting was held Wednesday.
Unlike traveling to the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometers, shuttle flights to outer space for a short duration are called suborbital flights. In Japan, a Nagoya-based spacecraft start-up PD AeroSpace Ltd. is aiming to realize such a space trip by 2023, while Space Walker Inc. in Minato Ward, Tokyo, is planning to achieve it by 2027.
Currently, there are no laws covering such travel and the development of a legal framework is a priority task. Therefore, the council started discussing how to ensure safety and other issues concerned, along with the makeup of the necessary legal framework.
At the first meeting, representatives from the government, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), PD AeroSpace and Space Walker sorted out tasks that need to be dealt with to realize the initiative. Representatives from the government included those from the Cabinet Office, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry and the Defense Ministry.
PD AeroSpace President Shuji Ogawa suggested at the meeting that the council should study the establishment of a legal framework related to crafts for the suborbital flights. He proposed that the council should think about whether to apply the existing outer space activities law and the Civil Aeronautics Law, or make a new law in this respect. “We hope a flexible legal framework will be created,” he said.
U.S. companies are taking the lead in suborbital space travel. Virgin Galactic’s manned flight reached an altitude of about 83 kilometers in December. Blue Origin LLC, the space business established by Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos, has successfully launched unmanned flights by a space vehicle that can be launched vertically.
A suborbital flight trip is estimated to cost ¥10 million to ¥30 million per person, whereas staying in orbit around Earth, for example, when traveling to the ISS, is expected to cost several billions of yen. Currently, PD AeroSpace estimates that the company will charge ¥17 million per person for a suborbital space travel when they actually offer the trip.