Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) is in talks with Lockheed Martin and five other companies to establish a satellite launch company based around the J-1 launch vehicle.

Once established, the venture would be Japan's first privately funded company developing rocket technology, which has up to now been the responsibility of the National Space Development Agency (NASDA).

The other companies involved are Aerojet, Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, Japan Aviation Electronics and IHI Aerospace which has been set up to take over Nissan's aerospace division from 1 July

The new venture would be expected to contribute about a third of the estimated ¥40 billion ($374 million) needed to adapt the J-1 to commercial small-satellite launches. The partners anticipate a demand for about 1,000 small-satellite launches over the next 20 years. The venture is expected to begin commercial launches from 2004, at an estimated cost of ¥3.5 billion per launch.

The current variant of the J-1, first launched in 1996, is a three-stage, solid fuel launch vehicle, capable of putting small, 870kg satellites into low Earth orbit at 250km. According to local press reports, the modifications should allow the launch of 3-tonne satellites up to 200km.

Source: Flight International