In the US, Elon Musk’s SpaceX broke into the market for launching satellites, previously the exclusive turf of major corporations. Now the leading satellite launch provider worldwide*, it has also built Starlink, a communications network using over 4,000 satellites†. Given that it was set up about 20 years ago, its scale, and the role it now plays, SpaceX can hardly be characterized as a startup anymore; but we have undoubtably entered an age when young ventures shoulder roles in national space programs, such as the US National Reconnaissance Office using satellite images provided by fledgling firms.
Japan’s space startups have been multiplying rapidly since around 2018, and there are over 801 of them as of October 2022. Their ranks are swelling on government grants to cover the business risks related to space and opportunities to carry out trials in space, though one capable of undertaking some aspect of Japan’s activities in space has yet to emerge. Japanese space initiatives—largely new and novel such as clean-up missions to remove space debris from orbit—are growing in number and scale.
The days are over when only a limited number of large conglomerates could manage the entirety of a nation’s space programs. The time has come to think about how to expand the role that startups, too, can play in Japan’s space endeavors.