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Hokkaido Spaceport Emerges as Japan's Gateway to the Stars

Hokkaido Spaceport is set to become a global hub for the space business industry as it gears up to support the launch of the new ZERO orbital rocket in 2024.



Hokkaido Spaceport (provided by SPACE COTAN)

The construction of the Hokkaido Spaceport (HOSPO) in Taiki, Hokkaido, is progressing steadily. In 2019, a small rocket launched from the town successfully reached outer space. Currently, a launch site for rockets carrying small satellites is under construction and is expected to be operational in 2024. As the global demand for small satellites increases and private space travel expands, HOSPO is gaining attention as Japan's new "gateway to space." The spaceport is managed and operated by the spaceport agency SPACE COTAN.

In October, the Hokkaido Space Summit was held in nearby Obihiro city. Around 800 people from government and industry attended the summit. 

During the summit, SPACE COTAN's CEO Yoshinori Odagiri explained the location's advantages and prospects as a spaceport. "The environment is very similar to the Kennedy Space Center [United States]," he said.

Hokkaido Space Summit 2023 held in October in Obihiro, Hokkaido. (©Sankei by Shinji Ono)

Why Taiki?

Rocket launches are typically carried out in areas with few people nearby in case of accidents. For example, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Tanegashima Space Center and Uchinoura Space Center are located on the Pacific coast of Kagoshima prefecture

HOSPO also faces the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by undeveloped wetlands, with no residences in sight. Not only does the facility have plenty of room to expand, but it also makes it easier to coordinate the launch times requested by clients with the preferences of the local community. 

It is also easily accessible and can be reached quickly by highway from the closest airport. There is also a port nearby, so satellites and aircraft can be transported by ship. 

The town of Taiki has a long relationship with space, and the idea of building a spaceport there dates back to 1984. Although HOSPO was established in 2021, the town constructed its runway back in 1995. In 2008, Taiki entered into a partnership agreement with JAXA, which conducted experiments on the runway using atmospheric balloons.

Furthermore, a corporate version of the hometown tax system was introduced in 2020 to collect funds for the spaceport. So far, ¥2,348,550,000 JPY (about $16.3 million USD) has been raised. The funds have been spent on measures such as building a new launch site or extending the runway. 


The LC1 Launch Site

A representative from Interstellar Technologies, a space venture headquartered in Taiki, drove us to another location from the summit venue. We traveled for around 15 minutes on a gravel road along a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 

Stopping the car, he said, "This area is the newly constructed LC1 launch site. The new rocket 'ZERO' will be launched from here." 

The Pacific Ocean stretched out before our eyes. Apart from the nearby LC0 launch site, which is already in operation, there were no man-made structures in sight other than construction facilities. 

According to the representative, the LC1 launch site will be in operation from 2024. LC stands for "Launch Complex," a term also used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In addition to the launch site, LC1 will have the facilities necessary for rocket development and operation. These will include a building for assembling and maintaining rockets, as well as facilities for fuel supply and aircraft development. 

A rendering of small satellite launch vehicle ZERO. (Provided by Interstellar Technologies)

The ZERO Mission

In 2019, Interstellar Technologies became the first Japanese private company to successfully reach outer space with its small observation rocket, MOMO F3. So far, it has managed to reach space three times. On each occasion, the rocket followed a suborbital trajectory, ultimately descending into the Pacific Ocean after its flight.

However, the new rocket ZERO has a different mission. It will accelerate to approximately 8 kilometers per second (5 mps) to deliver a satellite weighing up to 800 kilograms (1764 lbs) into Earth orbit. Therefore, the aircraft is significantly larger than MOMO, with a total length of 32 meters (105 ft) and a diameter of 2.3 meters (7.5 ft).

Rising Demand for Satellite Launches

In recent years, the use of outer space has expanded in both civil and national security sectors. And the demand for launches has increased accordingly.

This trend is demonstrated by data from the Cabinet Office's National Space Policy Secretariat, which shows a significant surge in satellite launches over the past few years. In 2022, there were 2,638 launches worldwide. This indicates an 11-fold increase over the past 10 years. One reason for the increase is the construction of small satellite constellations, in which satellites work together as a system. A notable example is Starlink, a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX.

Securing Access to Space

Despite this trend, the only Japanese rockets currently used to launch satellites are the large rocket H2A and the small rocket Epsilon, both developed by JAXA. Moreover, H2A will be retired soon, and test launches of its successor H3 have so far failed. 


Looking abroad, private companies such as SpaceX in the US are increasing their performance, and Japanese satellite development companies are also relying on them. 

The Japanese government takes the view that Japan needs to secure independent access to space. Therefore, it aims to encourage the development of rockets by private companies. In September, the science and technology ministry announced that it would provide approximately ¥6.32 billion JPY ($43.8 million USD) to four domestic space venture companies. Three of these companies are considering launching their rockets from HOSPO.


(Read the article in Japanese)

Author: Shinji Ono

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