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Japanese venture seeks to develop commercial space station module

TOKYO — A Japanese conglomerate has established a new subsidiary seeking to develop a module that could be installed on future commercial space stations.

The new venture, called Japan LEO Shachu, Inc., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsui & Co. that was formally established on July 1, its chief executive, Yudai Yamamoto, said in a July 9 presentation at the Spacetide conference here.

The goal of the company, he said, is to “leverage Japan’s strengths in LEO” building upon past work by Mitsui, which included handling cubesat deployments from Japan’s Kibo module on the International Space Station. Mitsui also invested in commercial space station developer Axiom Space in 2021.

The concept that Japan LEO Shachu is pursuing is the “Japan Module,” a module based on technologies developed for the HTV and new HTV-X cargo spacecraft. The module would include a pressurized area for research, manufacturing and other applications, as well as an external platform for additional payloads. The module will also have its own system for high-bandwidth communications.

Yamamoto provided few other technical details about the module, but said his company was focused on building up interest from companies and government agencies in using it. “Launch of the new vehicle is not our only goal,” he said. “It needs to be used, so most of our strategy today is to create a new market.”

He cited several key success factors for the project, including attracting customers outside the space industry as well as serving Japanese research, space exploration and national security needs.

He acknowledged the company’s plans will depend on its ability to work with American developers of commercial space stations. “We are open to collaborate with international partners, especially with the U.S. commercial space station companies,” he said. “Having a module that is complementary to them and how we can contribute to global commercial LEO systems is also important.”

The proposal for a Japanese module for a commercial space station comes as the Japanese space agency JAXA plans to solicit proposals for technologies that could be used on commercial stations, including the module itself as well as cargo spacecraft. That could provide mechanisms for the Japanese government and companies to participate as partners on commercial stations that will be developed by American companies through NASA’s Commercial LEO Destinations effort.

Among those American companies is Axiom Space. Speaking in a separate session at Spacetide July 9, Koichi Wakata, a former JAXA astronaut who joined Axiom earlier this year as its chief technology officer for the Asia-Pacific region, said he would be interested in incorporating a Japanese module of some kind to Axiom’s future station. “I would like to be a liaison,” he said in interpreted remarks in the Japanese-language session.

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