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'Spaceport' to be built in small northern Japan town

This artist's rendition shows Hokkaido Spaceport. (Image courtesy of Space Cotan Co.)

TAIKI, Hokkaido -- The municipal government of this small town in northern Japan is aiming high, with plans to complete a "Hokkaido Spaceport" rocket launch facility by fiscal 2025.

    The complex is the centerpiece of this community of 5,400's attempt to transform itself into a "space town."

    The Taiki local government partnered with six private firms -- including Sapporo-based gas utility Air Water Hokkaido Inc. and space venture Interstellar Technologies Inc. -- to launch Space Cotan Co. in the town on April 20. The new company is helmed by Yoshinori Odagiri, a 58-year-old former employee of All Nippon Airways Co. and ex-president of low-cost carrier AirAsia Japan Co. The firm has 76 million yen (about $700,000) in capital.

    Space Cotan plans to construct a complex that can launch rockets that Interstellar Technologies is now developing to carry satellites by fiscal 2023, near the venture firm's rocket testing site. Space Cotan is also planning a second, larger complex by fiscal 2025 to respond to demand from multiple companies to launch rockets. In addition, the company is looking to extend the runway at the Taiki Multi-Purpose Aerospace Park by 300 meters to 1,300 meters, and aims to create an additional 3,000-meter-class runway.

    The municipal government estimates the total cost to construct the two launch complexes will reach 5 billion yen (about $46 million). It plans to use donations including deductible "hometown corporate tax" contributions to pay half the cost, and cover the rest by applying for regional revitalization grants. Space Cotan will also have a role in fund procurement assistance.

    At an April 21 news conference in Sapporo, Taiki Mayor Masato Sakamori explained the history of the town's space initiatives, which have spanned more than 30 years. Space Cotan President Odagiri said, "The town of Taiki is a world-class port; we will make it a spaceport recognized by the world," and noted the town's geographical superiority and high percentage of clear skies.

    Taiki's involvement in space began in 1984, with a program to build a large-scale aerospace industry base in Hokkaido run by the then Hokkaido-Tohoku Development Finance Public Corp. (the present-day Development Bank of Japan Inc.). It became a project base candidate in Hokkaido's 1987 strategic plan, and the municipal government has worked on projects including sealing a partnership with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and creating the Taiki Multi-Purpose Aerospace Park. In 2019, Interstellar Technologies launched a small observation rocket from the town, making it Japan's first rocket developed solely by a private company to reach space.

    (Japanese original by Hitoshi Suzuki, Obihiro Local Bureau)

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