NAHA -- The Okinawa Prefectural Government and spaceplane developer PD AeroSpace Ltd. agreed on Sept. 10 to start preparing a "space port" at Miyako Shimojishima Airport on the island of Shimojishima in the prefecture to serve as a base for passenger flights into space.
The prefectural government concluded an agreement with the firm, based in the central Japan city of Nagoya, in a ceremony at the prefectural government headquarters on Sept. 10. PD AeroSpace CEO Shuji Ogawa said the port would be made into a base for space business.
"We are aiming to achieve this under the slogan, 'Shimojishima, the island from which you can travel to space,'" Ogawa said. He said he hoped to see the realization of a space tour in 2025.
PD AeroSpace says it will invest several billion yen (tens of millions of dollars) in the project, and look to grow in three fields: tenancy, training and tourism, aiming to conduct a test flight of an unmanned prototype spaceplane in 2021. Targeting the wealthy in Asia, mainly in China, it aims to take 100 people into space in 2025, and increase this figure to 1,000 in 2030. During the proposed 90-minute flights, passengers would experience five minutes of weightlessness. The cost of the trip is expected to be set at about 15 million yen (about $141,000) per person.
During the agreement ceremony, Okinawa Vice Gov. Kiichiro Jahana commented, "It's a very appealing and dream-inspiring proposal. The space industry is a field with high future prospects that continues to grow around the world, and it will have a ripple effect across the whole prefecture." He indicated that the prefectural government would maintain roads around the area and perform other infrastructural work. Both airline operator ANA Holdings Inc. and major travel company H.I.S. Co. are among the firms with stakes in PD AeroSpace, which aims to turn space flights into a business.
Shimojishima is located west of the island of Miyako in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa. The island covers an area of about 10 square kilometers. It is connected by roads to Irabu Island, which is in turn linked to the island of Miyakojima by bridge. The airport on Shimojishima, which is managed by the Okinawa Prefectural Government, has a runway measuring around 3,000 meters in length. It was built in 1979 as the nation's only pilot training facility for private jet planes, but due to the spread of flight simulators, Japan Airlines Co., All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA) and others withdrew from testing at the airport. A new passenger terminal opened at the airport in 2019 in collaboration with Mitsubishi Estate Co.
(Japanese original by Nozomu Takeuchi, Naha Bureau)