Japan's National Space Development Agency plans to initiate its own space shuttle programme from 2004 at a cost of up to $5 billion to provide services for space tourists.

Space tourist services may be operational as soon as 2008, according to the Japanese. Tickets for would-be space tourists would cost $5 million.

The Japanese Shuttle would be capable of carrying up to five passengers and would be launched by an upgraded Japanese H2A booster.

Sources suggest, however, that the $3 billion to $5 billion cost estimate is unrealistic as the USA spent over $40 billion to build the Space Shuttle, albeit a larger vehicle, while an orbiter costs $5 billion to build.

Japan cancelled plans for an unmanned 20t prototype shuttle vehicle, the HOPE-X, in 2000 due to budget cuts. An uprated HOPE-X was to be developed to serve as an International Space Station cargo carrier.

Source: Flight International