Space Industry in Japan

An Expert's View about Aerospace in Japan

Last updated: 13 Mar 2011


Japan’s space industry has long been known for applying its world-class industrial and technological know-how toward research and development (R&D). Now, Japan’s space industry is turning its focus from R&D to the commercialization of space technology. The Basic Space Law was enacted in 2008 and Japan is seriously taking steps to foster its space industry. Global demand for satellites is expected to increase especially in developing countries, and Japan hopes to export satellites to these countries. The Japanese transporter referred to as the H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) supports the International Space Station (ISS). Japan wishes to increase its role in the ISS to fill spaceflight gaps linked to the retirement of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Shuttle. U.S. manufacturers that can supply parts for satellites and the HTV should consider entering this market.


Market Demand

The Basic Space Law was enacted in May 2008 and went into force in August of that year. Under the law, chief responsibility for Japan’s space strategy has been transferred from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which is focused primarily on R&D, to the Strategic Space Headquarters for Space Policy, which is chaired by the Prime Minister. In so doing Japan hopes to continue its world-class R&D efforts while also fostering the commercialization of space technology by Japanese companies, thereby increasing Japan’s overall international competiveness in the space industry.


The Basic Space Law also points out that while Japan’s space program was traditionally limited to the development and use of space exclusively for “peaceful” purposes, to keep pace with international competition it also has become necessary for Japan to consider using space for “non-aggressive” military purposes, such as peacekeeping operations.


The Basic Space Law provides for a Basic Plan for Space Policy to be drawn up and facilitate a space-related legal framework. The policy outlines six basic pillars:

1. Ensure a Rich, Secure and Safe Life

2. Contribute to Enhancement of Security

3. Promote the Utilization of Space for Diplomacy

4. Create a promising future by promoting R&D of the forefront areas

5. Foster Strategic Industries for the 21st Century

6. Consider the Environment


In order to fulfill the six basic pillars, the policy outlines systems and programs as follows: Five Systems for Utilization:

1. Land and Ocean Observing Satellite System to contribute to Asia and other regions

2. Global Environmental Change and Weather Observing Satellite System

3. Advanced Telecommunication Satellite System

4. Positioning Satellite System

5. Satellite System for National Security

Four Programs for R&D:

1. Space Science Program

2. Human Space Activity Program

3. Space Solar Power Program

4. Small Demonstration Satellite Program


The enactment of the law and the implementation of the plan appear to be showing positive results. Futron Corporation, a U.S. technology consulting firm, advanced Japan from 8.59 points in 2008 to 15.80 points in 2009 in the government category for Space Competitiveness Index (SCI). As a result, Japan, which was ranked No. 7 in 2008, surpassed Canada, India, and China to become 2009’s fourth-ranked country in terms of overall space competitiveness after the United States, Europe, and Russia. According to Futron Corporation, Japan and China ranked very closely but Japan outperformed China with regard to transparency within civil and military space organizations.


In February 2010 Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) forecast that demand for satellites will grow in developing countries from 128 (1999-2008) to 260 (2009-2018). The forecast suggests that the largest market segment is for communication and broadcasting satellites, but that recently demand for earth observation satellites is also increasing. To help Japanese industry meet this demand, in February 2010 METI led a space industry trade delegation to Egypt and South Africa, promoting not only the sale of satellites themselves, but also complete packages including launch systems, ground operation equipment and technology, personnel training, and more.


Japanese companies seeking to expand their space industry business need imports to complement their own technologies. According to the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies (SJAC), imports for the Japanese space industry are on the rise. In 2008, 98% of the imports were space vehicles, of which 72% were related to satellites. SJAC notes that North America and Europe are the only players in the import market; in particular, North American firms have a strong presence in the import market and imports from North America are increasing.


After the retirement of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Shuttle, there will be only three cargo spacecraft available for use in transit to and from the International Space Station (ISS): HTV (Japan), Progress (Russia) and Automated Transfer Vehicle or ATV (European Space Agency or ESA). Out of the three, HTV is the only vehicle able to deliver materials used on board the ISS and through Extravehicular Activities (EVAs). At the rear of HTV are an avionics module that accommodates navigation electronics, and a propulsion module that facilitates the vehicle rendezvous with the ISS. Japan wishes to increase its role in the ISS to fill spaceflight gaps linked to the retirement of the Space Shuttle. U.S. manufacturers that can supply parts for HTV may have a good opportunity in this market


By Sayoko Koto


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Posted: 23 August 2010, last updated 13 March 2011

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Space Industry in Japan   By U.S. Commercial Service Japan