Thank you for reading Sorabatake in 2020, and a Happy New Year to all our readers!
New years is the best time of year to start a new tradition! This year at Sorabatake, we conducted a survey on businesses around Japan that work in the space industry on what kind of year 2020 was for them, and what they would like to do in 2021? We’ll be sharing the results of our survey in this article.
Our survey consisted of the three following questions.
Q1. What were some of the highlights for your company in 2020?
Q2. What kind of year was 2020 for your company?
Q3. What are your ambitions and goals for 2021 and beyond?
We reached out to companies involved in the space industry across Japan to have them participate in our survey. If any of our readers feel like their company should be involved with our survey next year, please feel free to let us know.
(1) An introduction of companies that participated in this article.
A total of 36 companies and corporations across Japan participated in our survey this year. Thank you everyone for taking the time to get back to us during such a busy time of the year.
Here is a list of the companies/corporations that participated by industry (in Japanese alphabetical order)
Axelspace Corporation, Astroscale, Amanogi, Infostellar, iQPS Inc., SAKURA Internet Inc., Skygate Technologies Inc., Space Walker Inc., Space Port Japan, NEC Corporation, Warpspace Inc.
Astroflash Inc., Umitron, ALE Co., Ltd., Kyocera Corporation, Signate Inc., Synspective, SKY Perfect Communications Inc., Space Shift, Inc., Space Basil Inc., Sony Corporation, Sei-za, Solafune, Datafluct, Tenchijin, Inc.,Pasco Corporation, Remote Sensing Technology Center of Japan.
Toyota Motor Corporation、Outsense Inc., Towing, Dymon Co., Ltd.
Uchu co.Ltd., ABLab, Origami/ETS LLC, Space BD Inc., Panasonic Corporation “Aerospace Corporate HQ”, PwC Consulting
*Companies that work in different fields, decided which field to be categorized by.
(2) Response from manufacturing/infrastructure companies
Our first section will deal with companies that work in manufacturing/infrastructure.
Our definition for manufacturing/infrastructure in the space industry includes making satellites and rockets, as well as the equipment needed on the ground to launch them.
From a global perspective, this was a historic year for Space X.
Space X surpassed over 100 launches last year, and in May 2020, they successfully executed a manned test flight on their Crew Dragon ship. In November, they put Soichi Noguchi, a Japanese astronaut, into space. This marks the beginning of their service to transport astronauts to space stations.
Another international topic involves the IT giant, Microsoft Azure and their Azure Space program. The company entered the broadband internet providing service, which they intend to do with satellites.
Technologies around the world are growing increasingly advanced every year, with major companies joining in on the industry. So what kind of year was it for Japanese companies in the space industry?
The following companies answered our survey.
– Axelspace Corporation
– iQPS Inc.
– SAKURA Internet Inc.
– Skygate Technologies Inc.
– Space Walker Inc.
– Space Port Japan
– NEC Corporation
– Warpspace Inc.
(Alphabetical order in Japanese)
Older companies breaking into new fields
One of the companies that participated in our survey is a company that has been around for a long time, NEC.
One of the highlights for NEC this year was the launch of LOTUSat-1, a satellite that is set to observe the area around Vietnam. It marks their step into the space industry, something they haven’t participated in up until this year.
Companies with ample manufacturing experience taking steps to launch their own satellites
Many of the space startups we spoke to provides answers such as this:
– iQPS Inc.: In December this year, using their experience with the Izanagi, their first small satellite, they will launch the Izanami, their second, upgraded small satellite, together with Space X’s Falcon 9.
– Axelspace Corporation: They manufactured four more GRUS-1BCDE satellites for the AxelGlobe service
– Synspective: Set up a partnership with Rocket Lab in April to manufacture their test satellite, StriX-α, which was successfully launched on the 15th of December.
– Astroscale: Completed the design of the world’s first space junk removal satellite, the ELSA-d, which they plan on launching in March 2021.
Many of these companies have made improvements to their manufacturing processes and are on their way to launching their own satellites. Satellite businesses cannot even begin a service until they have a satellite in space. It’s exciting to see what kind of services these companies will provide once they have operating satellites.
Infostellar began providing a business service, and made their entry into the ground system development Industry
Infostellar operates a network of ground stations that they are making available to other companies in the space industry. In 2020, their mission was to make a transition from an early-phase start-up to a company that provides a service, and after completing product development, they are currently testing a product before introducing it to the market.
Skygate Technologies Inc. is another company that operates ground stations that started their service in 2020. They finished their seed round and began developing their product and brought in their first revenue this year.
With more space startups popping up every year, the demand for ground stations will likely increase. It will be interesting to see what part of the marketplace Japanese companies take away from large international competitors such as Microsoft Azure and AWS.
Space transportation also saw more funding. The creation of a Japanese space port
In news related to transportation services, Space Walker successfully gained two large fundings, amounting to 325 million yen in their pre-seed round, and 405 million yen in their extended pre-seed round.
Space Port Japan is a company that is working on bringing space ports to Japan. In April, they released details on a project converting an airport into a space port in Oita prefecture. It will not be long before space launches start taking place in Japan.
The impact of the coronavirus and ways to improve the industry
Despite the stress the coronavirus had on Japan, manufacturing and infrastructure, businesses made ample progress on their projects throughout the industry.
– iQPS Inc.: Doubled their employee count.
– Infostellar: Hired an international executive.
– Synspective: Increased their employee count to 95 people from 18 different countries.
– Warpspace Inc.: Tested their base technologies to bring their levels up to par. They also doubled employment numbers.
– Amanogi: They designed, tested, and manufactured a flight model for an in-house start tracker (ASC) and gained experience in how to utilize satellite data.
(3) Response from application companies
Next, we will talk about the field of application in the space industry. The application field refers to businesses that work with satellite data and position data, as well as services that rely on communication satellites. This also includes companies that provide services which use machines, such as artificial shooting stars, to sell space as a service.
One of the more shocking news events from 2020 was when OneWeb Inc., a company that was working on creating their own constellation, applied for bankruptcy. On the other hand, Space X put their starlink satellites into space with their own rockets (as of December 2020, they have over 1000 satellites in space), and began the beta test for their network of communication satellites.
Since 2020 was a year plagued with the coronavirus, causing less people moving around the world, the data provided by earth observation satellites and their remote sensing gained a lot of worldwide attention. You may have heard reports of the air getting cleaner around industrial parts of the world or seen rare satellite images of tourist spots void of the usual tourist traffic.
Furthermore, Planet Labs, a manufacturer of Earth observation satellites and provider of satellite data saw their data being used by the intelligence community for national security. This suggests that the quality of satellite imagery is beginning to hit levels of use recognized by governments.
So, what kind of year was it for domestic space companies? Let’s see what kind of answers they sent back in the survey.
The following companies answered our survey.
– Astroflash Inc.
– ALE Co., Ltd.
– Kyocera Corporation
– Signate Inc.
– SKY Perfect Communications Inc.
– Space Shift Inc.
– Space Basil Inc.
– Sony Corporation
– Tenchijin, Inc.
– Remote Sensing Technology Center of Japan.
Satellite data is becoming more accessible, with new applications and competitions
To start off with, here are some comments from companies that provide solutions for analyzing satellite data.
If you have read up until this point, you’ve probably realized that 2020 was a big year for establishing concepts for satellite data services by the private sector. Many of the solutions we saw were based on the primary industry of companies, but some of them were also branching into new businesses. We received comments on where this will take the space industry, and what kind of services may be created in the future.
In the data analysis competitions organized by Signate and Solafune, many of the participants use satellite data. This was a big year for data scientists, not involved with universities and research facilities, to branch out and begin working with satellite data.
With so much more satellite data that scientists have access to than ever before, 2021 is likely to see the birth of more services that use satellite data for practical applications.
Using space to come up with new ideas
Looking at areas outside of data utilization, ALE Inc. conducted branding for themselves as they continued their work on developing artificial shooting stars and began developing equipment to gather data on the atmosphere and on the removal of space debris. SKY Perfect Communications Inc. also branched out of their satellite communication business to develop a method of removing debris with lasers, the first of its kind in the world. We received comments that capture their enthusiasm in taking on this new challenge.
2020 was a good year for companies like these three in coming up with ideas for new kinds of projects.
Astroflash Inc.: We have the funding we need and have finalized deals with different manufacturers, so now we are ready to begin development on our first satellite
Sony Corp: We’ve started a new project for people to experience what it is like to go to space called the Sony Space Entertainment Project! Tokyo University and Jaxa both participated with Sony, putting a camera system on a small satellite
Space Basil Inc.: We currently have our next big project in the works. When word of these projects begins to pick up speed, it will not be long before the public begins to associate space with marketing and entertainment.
Now that using space to promote business is becoming more of a common place in our society, we have high hopes for what this will bring in terms of new projects in the future.
Here is a slide show that contains all the answers from our survey. The passion in some of their answers is not something we were able to convey in our article, so please be sure to read them for yourself.
(4) Responses from companies that work with space exploration
Next, we will talk about the companies that work primarily in the field of observation.
Space exploration deals with companies who create things like space rover vehicles to send into outer space to explore places like the Moon and Mars in an effort to find a way to one day live on another planet.
On a global level, NASA is currently working on their Artemis project to build a space station on the Moon by 2024. The idea is to go beyond just bringing people into space, creating an environment on another planet where people can reside, in the hopes of one day finding a way for people to inhabit Mars. Space X is another company that has made significant advances in developing their new space shuttle, Starship.
China released plans to create an international space station on the Moon (LIRS), and successfully retrieved rock samples from the Moon from their moon rover called Chang 5 on December 17th of the year. This was the most recent moon rover to return with a Moon sample since 1976, when the Soviet Union launched their Lunar 24. The Mars exploration rover was also launched in 2020, with plans to make it to Mars by February of 2021.
Let’s check out what kind of year it was for Japanese companies in the exploration industry.
The following companies answered our survey.
– Toyota Motor Corporation
– Outsense Inc.
– Dymon Co., Ltd.
The development of moon rovers continues to advance
Toyota, one of Japan’s top companies, made their way into the space industry. Toyota announced that they would be working together with JAXA to develop their pressurized manned moon rover called the “Lunar Cruiser”. It is exciting to see what kind of land rover one of the world’s top automakers will come up with.
Dymon Inc. which is currently working on their own land rover called the Yaoki, finalized the flight model they would use for the rover, bringing them to the final stages of their plans to take Yaoki to space in 2021 via the Astrobotics moonship, the Peregrine. If they are successful, it would be Japan’s first time to explore the Moon.
JAXA has also made it known that they will be helping NASA with their space exploration mission, Artemis. They released information about their collaboration with Toyota playing a role in their “Joint Exploration Declaration of Intent”(JEDI) with NASA.
We hope that Toyota taking part in the Artemis mission will bring other large companies who have never dabbled in space technology before, to enter the industry.
What is being done to put people on the Moon
Outsense Inc. moved their office to Oota, where they are working with engineers to perfect a technology called “folding”. They are working together with many other businesses to increase their knowledge of this technology and raise more funds.
Towing Inc. also released information on their participation in the Space Foodsphere project, which aims to figure out how to solve problems accessing food in space. They are working on solid waste and recycling methods for living on the Moon and Mars while developing regional agricultural techniques.
Companies that develop ways for people to survive in deep space need to do so in a way in which they can learn from technologies used for people on Earth. There are two different levels of research needed for having people live in space. One is a long-term goal that looks at both space and the Earth, and the other is for deep space exploration.
In the fall of 2021, Japanese astronauts will be recruited for the first time in 13 years. These astronauts could potentially be on the team that goes to the Moon. We are looking forward to overcoming challenges step by step towards creating an environment where people can live on the Moon, a necessary part of manned lunar exploration. We expect many more companies will enter this field in the future.
Here is a slide show that contains all of the answers from our survey. The zeal and energy in some of their answers is not something we are able to convey in the article, so please be sure to read them for yourself.
(5) Other types of companies and how they use our data
We also received answers from companies that don’t really fit in any of the three previous categories.
The following companies also answered our survey.
– Uchu co.Ltd.
– Origami/ETS LLC
– Space BD Inc.
– Panasonic Corporation “Aerospace Corporate HQ”
– PwC Consulting
There are a wide range of businesses that work in the space industry.
The 6 companies listed below differ greatly in their scope of business activities.
Uchus Co., Ltd. is a company that conducts human resource development to increase the number of people who can play an active role in space. This year, their educational activities saw less face-to-face learning due to the coronavirus, which forced them to bring all their classes online. They are considering using digital technology to enhance learning in the future.
ABLab is a space business community that was founded about two and a half years ago. In December of 2020, with the creation of the company Seese, they finally met their goal created at their establishment, which was to create a space company within three years. They shared this comment with us; “Our journey up until now was filled with many challenges. In the space industry, it is important to not only study hard and increase knowledge of space, but to work together with others to create something new. This was a good year to increase our ability to bring growth to our members.” We hope to see more space businesses created by ABLab in the future.
Origami/ETS LLC is similar to Datafluct and Tenchijin in that it has financial backing from members of JAXA, so have access to JAXA’s insight and technologies. Origami/ETS LLC’s mission is to make large advancements in Japan’s space industry and is involved in a large variety of projects for a start-up. In 2020, in addition to their software licensing and consulting business, they started a SAR data analysis and consulting business, and are working together with JAXA’s exploration hub to build a giant antenna and developing cutting-edge lightweight “folding” technology to make solar panels mounted on the moon rover easier to carry.
Space BD Inc. is working to become a “space merchant” and developing a wide variety of space-related services, including a satellite launch service, to accelerate the privatization of the space industry. Their biggest news from 2020 is that they have taken on a JAXA project to demonstrate the ability for a micro satellite, like the space station supply ship (HTV-X), to refuel a spacecraft. This private company has taken on three other projects from JAXA and is currently creating a name for itself globally as a satellite launching company.
PwC Consulting is a company of PwC Japan Group, which houses their space business team. They work primarily with utilizing satellite data and cyber security. Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, efforts to utilize data are increasing rapidly, and many of these companies would like to make more use of satellite data.
The Panasonic Corporation has also established a volunteer group to consider launching an in-house space business. Their efforts were applauded by many media outlets, and with over 300 members, it looks like their project may come to fruition. In this way, larger companies are beginning to play a role in the development of the Japanese space industry. NTT Communications has also started their own proposal to break into the industry, so that is something else to look forward to.
Here is a slide show that contains all of the answers from our survey. The energy and passion in some of the answers isn’t possible to convey in our article, so please be sure to read them for yourself.
(6) Ambitions for 2021
We had a multiple-choice part of our survey that asked for predictions in 2021 for new developments in the space industry.
We asked whether they expected to see an increase or decrease in funding, market scale, and new businesses. The following graph shows what companies thought.
As you can see in the graph above, companies responded saying they are looking forward to an increase at a rate of over 60% for funding, market scale, and new businesses, so it’s safe to expect a big increase in 2021.
Furthermore, over 75% of companies who answered our survey though that market scale and businesses would both increase in 2021. In regard to market scale, we received comments that show there are companies that plan on churning a profit domestically before 2021 is over, which is a good sign for the market in Japan. In terms of new businesses, with larger companies like Toyota and Sony leading the way by breaking into the industry in 2020, there were also new start-ups such as Sky Gate Technologies and Solafune. With more large companies beginning to show interest in entering the space industry, 2021 looks to be an exciting year for new projects.
On the other hand, there were also 15 companies who reported a decrease in investment. Bryce Space and Technology, who wrote this on their ideas on finance in the space industry, in “Start-Up Space Update on Investment in Commercial Space Ventures”. They stated that while the amount of money going into the space industry is increasing, if you take out the amount that went to SpaceX, OneWeb, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, 2018 saw more investment than 2019.
This means that while the space industry is growing, the money is being distributed to a small number of companies. With SpaceX poised to gain even more capital in 2021, the reality is that there were also companies like Oneweb and Intelsat that went under in 2020.
SpaceX was involved in what is being called the second wave of space business at the turn of the century. Virgin Galactic was also another company that appeared around that time. Whether or not investment will increase or not depends on the continuing success of large companies like SpaceX and the quality of the business models presented by companies that started up around 2010.
For example, Rocket Lab has steadily built up a successful track record in the small rocket market. And in Japan, Interstellar Technologies and Space Walker are developing and launching rockets.
In addition, with Planet Labs leading the satellite data market for satellite manufacturing and image provision, Axelspace has invested capital in the domestic market for its satellite data sales and solution business in 2020, and Synspecective and QPS laboratories have succeeded in satellite development and launching, so we can expect there to be a series of successful domestic space companies emerging in the near future.
In addition to this, as Space Basil and Sony have now entered the market, it was a good year for businesses that expand the possibilities for the space industry. We will have to keep an eye on how their business models affect the space industry.
We will also keep track on how much investments increase or decrease in 2021, and publish an article on it at the end of the year.
The dawning of a new space era and the start-ups that are speeding up the industry
The general impression we received from conducting this survey was that businesses are joining the space industry faster than ever before.
Companies that were established as late as 2019 or 2020 already have the funds they need to begin, with some already starting services and bringing in revenue. It’s said that breaking into the space industry can take time, but compared to five years ago, things are heating up at a much higher pace.
This is probably due in large to the many companies using their resources to join the industry. But we cannot forget about the space startups from ten years ago that paved the way for the industry now. Things could not be moving as fast as they are now without public and investor interest, as well as backing from the government.
The space startups have finally gathered on the playing field, so it is exciting to see what kind of year 2021 will be for the industry.
Efforts by the government and Jaxa finally came to fruition in 2020
Government support is a trend that pops up throughout the industry.
Of the 31 companies, six brought up their partnership with JAXA, and one brought up S-Booster, and another spoke about their open and free satellite data verification project during the survey.
Some of the companies that mention JAXA are major Japanese players such as Toyota and Sony. The entrance of these businesses, who never had an interest in the space industry, set to help accelerate the expansion of the industry.
Our survey shows that government support played a role in bringing more companies into the space industry, a trend we hope continues.
The merger of startups and older companies
One thing we did not see in our survey was partnerships between two different Japanese space companies. We did not hear anything about space startups working together with other older and bigger Japanese companies.
It is common to hear about startups around the world completing their early research and manufacturing stages before teaming up with a larger company to mass produce their product in order to create something much bigger, like a satellite constellation.
As Japanese startups mature, we hope that they can create similar partnerships to take the industry to the next level.
That sums up 2020 and 2021 for the space industry in Japan. Sorabatake hopes to bring our readers many more articles in 2021!