Futuristic “Spaceport Japan” concept floated for Tokyo Bay
A serious-looking consortium of businesses is trying to position Japan as the first Asian space tourism hub, by proposing a futuristic, floating “Spaceport Japan” from which services like Virgin Galactic can operate their sub-orbital joyrides.
In terms of the flight logistics, this will initially just require a regular runway; Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo Unity doesn’t blast off vertically like a typical space rocket. Instead, it attaches to the remarkable WhiteKnightTwo, hanging between the mothership’s twin fuselages as it takes off like a crazy-looking but relatively conventional aircraft and rises to a 50,000-ft altitude.
At this stage, SpaceShipTwo drops off and the rocket boosters kick in, accelerating the spacecraft at around 3.5 g to speeds over Mach 3.5 toward the blackness of space. At some point, higher than 50 miles, but well below orbital altitude, the rockets will shut off, and passengers will be able to get out of their seats and float about in a zero-gravity experience for a few minutes while looking out the windows at the curvature of the Earth below.
The craft will then glide back down and make a conventional landing, right where it took off, just some 90 minutes later. For the moment, that’s Spaceport America, a slightly less glamorous looking facility in New Mexico – although its looks can be forgiven for the simple fact that it actually exists.
The Spaceport Japan group – a non-profit with 25 “regular members” including Airbus Japan, Kajima Corporation, Suntory, Mitsubishi Estate, Yamato Holdings and Manned Space Systems, and more than 30 other “supporting members” – sees an opportunity to be much more than an airstrip.
The group wants to build a space education and tourist precinct, including space-focused art museums, space gyms and pools, a 4D space-focused theater, a broadcast studio, restaurants, hotels and business facilities. That’s alongside all the practical infrastructure it’d need; hangars, maintenance facilities, air/space traffic control, terminals and training facilities for those lucky enough to be able to afford the astronomical prices of these early space tourism flights.
Right now that’s US$250 million a seat, just to go to the edge of space for a brief float around and a look out the window. So it’s certainly not going to be a volume market in the short term – but the Spaceport Japan team says it expects the space industry as a whole to become a trillion-dollar market by 2050, with space tourism growing steadily as a segment.
The renders seen here show a huge floating platform in Tokyo Bay, connected to the mainland by a bridge. A giant multi-level plaza and two pickle-shaped towers house all the many amenities above, with three large terminals for space flights and the associated runways required. These have been put together by Noiz Architects, a Tokyo-based firm with a number of futuristic projects in the works.
It seems premature to be looking at building a monster facility like this, and indeed Virgin’s Orbit satellite orbit launch company has already chosen Oita airport as a preferred launch site, saying that’s where it’ll “establish the first horizontal spaceport in Asia.” The company hopes to run its first space mission from Japanese soil as early as 2022.
But Spaceport Japan is looking further ahead, preparing the public, the Japanese government and the business world to take advantage of the opportunity and invest in infrastructure when the timing is right. The first step is creating a conversation, and here we are.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm