New Japanese Space Law Bolsters Private Sector

Aoki Setsuko argues that Japan’s Space Activities Act will bolster the country’s commercial space sector.

On November 16, 2016, Japan’s Space Activities Act was promulgated, establishing a system for licensing the launching of rockets and the operation of satellites by private-sector companies. Almost 20 Western and other countries have already enacted this sort of legislation; Japan is a relative latecomer in this respect….

Now that Japan has adopted its Space Activities Act, start-ups are not left wondering what agency they should contact but can go in advance to discuss their plans with officials at a specially designated counter in the Cabinet Office.

The new Japanese law also provides government support in the provision of financial guarantees required by commercial space launch operators, such as by arranging third-party liability insurance coverage. The required coverage is calculated on the basis of the maximum probable loss estimated in line with the rocket type and the payload content; in the case of damages in excess of this coverage, the law provides that the government is to pay for the residual damages up to a certain limit. This is similar to arrangements that have been adopted in the United States and France, although the French government sets no limit on payments.

In addition, Japan’s Space Activities Act provides that the launch operator bears liability for accident damages even if they are due to problems in the payload. This channeling of liability would seem to be disadvantageous to launch operators, but it can be expected to enhance the competitive position of the Japanese companies providing this service, because it reassures customers around the world who are seeking to have their satellites put into orbit. France is the only other country that has adopted a similar provision.

Alongside technological development and financing, the design of the legal and regulatory system is a key determinant of success or failure in space business. The new Space Activities Act is sure to give a major boost to this business in Japan, which has both technological strength and great potential. Within the next few years we can expect to see start-ups launching small rockets carrying miniaturized satellites into orbit.

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