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Japanese general contractors looking to build base on moon

An artist's concept of robotic construction equipment digging the moon's surface. (Photo courtesy of Shimizu Corp.)

TOKYO -- Major Japanese contractors are promoting research on construction projects in space, eyeing future demand for building bases on the moon from around 2030, when NASA and JAXA plan to set up their manned foothold on Earth's natural satellite.

Shimizu Corp. launched a frontier development office in April to find business opportunities in space. About 10 staffers are conducting research on how to construct a base on the moon. Under their plans, concrete for base construction can be produced by mixing the moon's surface soil with melted ice taken from the satellite. The melted ice can also be used to provide drinking water, oxygen and hydrogen as fuel to the base.

Kajima Corp. has been conducting research on building a moon base with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) since 2016. They plan to send construction machinery to the moon and remotely control it to build a base.

The contractor is already using unmanned dump trucks and bulldozers at dam construction sites, and considers that such automation technology can be applied to projects on the moon. A company official said one of the issues they have to solve is the communication time lag between Earth and the moon, which are about 380,000 kilometers apart. It takes more than 2 seconds for remote control signals to travel both ways.

Last December, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to send astronauts to the moon and Mars. The moon is said to have platinum and other rare minerals and may eventually be a target of resource development.

General contractors' technology and expertise in operating heavy machinery could easily be applied in constructing bases or excavating resources on the moon. A Shimizu official explained that the space business is expected to grow into a promising market. "We are still planning and researching, but we would like to find real business opportunities during the latter half of the 2020s when many countries' space development projects are expected to take shape," the official said.

Atsushi Uchida, senior researcher at the Mitsubishi Research Institute Inc., said the United States, Russia and China among others are certain to begin economic activities on the moon in the near future. "Humans need bases for projects on the moon. Going to space is no longer a dream for Japanese general contractors but a realistic story for the near future," he said.

(Japanese original by Masahiro Kawaguchi, Business News Department)

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