Japan's Galaxy Express venture, led by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI), plans to begin development of the $475 million GX medium satellite launcher next month, leading to a maiden flight from Tanegashima in 2006.

The project is part of Japan's space budget allocation of $2.33 billion for fiscal year 2002, a decrease of 5.2% on 2001. Around $1.43 billion of the budget is allocated to the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) and Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, including $96 million for the H2A launcher.

The GX will be a two-stage launcher, equipped with a Russian NK-33-powered first stage, based on that of the Lockheed Martin Atlas V, with an upper stage powered by a liquid methane and liquid oxygen engine developed by IHI. The NK-33 is being developed with US manufacturer GenCorp.

The 43m-long (140ft) GX, a replacement for the J-1 launcher, will be able to place a 3,000kg (6,600lb) payload into a 200km (120 mile) low Earth orbit.

IHI is providing 32% of funding for Galaxy Express. Other partners are Kokusai Sohko Kakubishi, IHI Aerospace, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Japan Aviation Electronics Industry and Fuji Heavy Industries.

The venture is also considering constructing a $300 million equatorial launch pad on Kiritimati Island, in the Pacific Ocean.

Source: Flight International