MHI targets U.S. to double rocket unit sales


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. said it will boost sales of rocket parts sales to companies in the United States, aiming to more than double revenue at its space unit.

MHI, which launched its first commercial satellite last month, plans to increase sales to ¥100 billion in the next 10 years from about ¥50 billion at present, according to Shoichiro Asada, head of the firm’s space systems operations.

The company will increase sales of engine parts and tanks for the Delta and Atlas launch vehicles of United Launch Alliance LLC, a Boeing Co.-Lockheed Martin Corp. venture. The major maker of trains, ships and planes is also seeking to launch more commercial satellites to compete with Europe’s Ariane and Russia’s Proton rocket systems to pare reliance on Japan government contracts.

“We can’t boost sales that much with just the space launch system,” Asada said recently in Tokyo. “We’re aiming to sell more parts for Delta (rockets). They focus more on state contracts rather than commercial satellites and are more reliable.”

MHI’s aerospace systems unit, which oversees its space business, racked up sales of ¥495 billion in the year that ended March 31. The group, whose consolidated sales amounted to around ¥2.8 trillion in fiscal 2011, is predicting net income of ¥40 billion in the current year on sales of ¥3 trillion.

The firm was tasked with launching Japan’s H-II rockets in 2007 and since then has sent as many as three rockets per year into space. On May 18, it put a Korea Aerospace Research Institute satellite into orbit alongside a Japanese satellite.

MHI plans to launch about four satellites a year, mostly government, but is looking to land another commercial contract from an Asian country by 2015, Asada said. The firm, which makes a profit on launches for the Japanese government, has asked the nation to provide financial support for its commercial launches.

“We’re looking for countries that don’t have any satellites at the moment,” said Asada, its space systems chief. “We’re interested in Mongolia and several other countries, but we need backup from the government.”

The cost of launching satellites from Japan has increased in both dollar and euro terms because of the strong yen — which soared 45 percent against the dollar to around ¥77 in the four years to the end of 2011 — making domestic sites uncompetitive costwise, Asada said.

“We used to be able to compete against (Russia’s) Proton when the yen was at ¥105,” he said. “The H-II can’t compete with it at the moment.”

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is designing a next-generation rocket to help cut launch costs, its website said.