China and Japan’s space tourism players aren’t scared of SpaceX

Japan’s PD Aerospace and China’s Kuang-Chi Science are among Asia’s homegrown private firms planning to offer spaceflight services to civilians.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have a dominant global presence in the New Space Industry.

Shuji Ogawa, CEO of PD Aerospace, acknowledges that it’s unlikely Asian companies can rival SpaceX, Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin, but he said there’s more than enough demand to go around.

PD Aerospace is developing a reusable sub-orbital space plane featuring a propulsion system that alternates between jet and rocket mode. It’s expected to carry eight people — two pilots and six passengers — over 100 kilometers above the Earth. The Kármán line, which lies 100 km above sea level, is the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

PD Aerospace – Koike Terumasa Design and Aerospace

PD Aerospace says it intends to conduct its first trial in 2020, with the hope of commencing tourism operations in 2023. Because Japan is small, securing testing areas has been a challenge, Ogawa said. The initial price tag for a trip is set at 14 million yen ($126,639) but Ogawa intends to eventually lower the cost to 398,000 yen ($3,600). “We want to offer space tours to ordinary people.”

Three Japanese companies said that they agreed in October to work together on space commercialization efforts, including space travel. H.I.S. is investing about $264,000 (30 million yen) for a 10.3 percent share of the venture. ANA Holdings, the umbrella company for the ANA (All Nippon Airways) airline, is putting in about $180,000 (20.4 million yen) for a 7 percent share.

Kuang-Chi Science has built a capsule attached to a giant helium balloon that’s capable of taking six passengers anywhere from 20 to 100 km above Earth — an area known as near space.

Kuang-Chi Science. The “Traveler” by Kuang-Chi Science.

The Traveler has already undergone two unmanned test runs since 2015 — the second of which housed a live turtle — and a third is scheduled for later this year, according to the company. It hopes to complete a trial with humans on board by 2020.