September 8, 2005

Japan May Build Launch Pad Overseas

TOKYO (AP) - An advisory panel recommended that Japan build a new launch pad for its space program overseas because its current one is restricted by local fishing concerns, a report said Wednesday.

The committee, organized under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, urged the government to consider sites such as Christmas Island in the Pacific archipelago of Kiribati, Kyodo News Agency reported, citing ministry officials it did not identify.

Japan's current space center, on the southern island of Tanegashima, lags behind sites used by U.S. and European space agencies because its launching period is limited by local fishing seasons and the center's small capacity, the panel said, according to Kyodo.

Tanegashima's small airport also means that rocket components must be shipped to the island, instead of flown, increasing transportation costs and the time required to stage a launch, Kyodo said.

Tokyo already has a tracking station on Christmas Island to trace its rocket shots from Tanegashima and has conducted aircraft tests in the region.

Launch sites along the Earth's equator are optimal because the planet's rotation is fastest there, giving rockets an extra boost and saving fuel.

Six Japanese astronauts have gone into space. Earlier this year, an official with the Japanese space agency, JAXA, said the nation was considering a plan to establish a manned lunar base by 2025.