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A space industry advisory panel at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has proposed in a report that Japan build a rocket launchpad abroad, in addition to the one currently being used on Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, METI officials said Wednesday.

The panel under the Aircraft and Space Industry Committee of METI’s Industrial Structure Council urged the government to consider constructing a site possibly on Christmas Island in the mid-Pacific nation of Kiribati, when commercial launches gain momentum in Japan.

The report points out that the Tanegashima Space Center, which was established in 1969, lags behind launch sites used by U.S. and European space authorities because of its restricted launch period due to fishery concerns and its small capacity.

In addition, the paper says, the small size of the airport serving the Tanegashima center means components must arrive at the island by ship, therefore increasing the costs and time required.

On Christmas Island, located some 2,000 km south of Hawaii, Japan successfully flew an unmanned jet-powered vehicle in an October 2002 test aimed at developing its own version of a space shuttle.

Tokyo also built a tracking station on the island in 1976 to trace radio waves sent from rockets launched from the Tanegashima site.

The coral atoll is suitable for rocket launches because rockets can take best advantage of the Earth’s rotation, economizing the fuel used in liftoff.

The panel forecast the Japanese space industry market will expand to about 8.70 trillion yen in fiscal 2015 from 4.26 trillion yen in fiscal 2003, underlining projected growth in the use of satellite-related car navigation and global positioning system services.

Japan domestically developed the H-IIA rocket, whose business is expected to be transferred to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. in fiscal 2006, which starts next April.

A government-private consortium including Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co. has also been developing a small rocket named the Galaxy Express with the aim of conducting the first launch of the GX test rocket, according to the report.

The panel also called for new legislation to stipulate the government’s responsibility in Japan’s future commercial aerospace activities.

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