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An airport in Japan could become a landing site for the Dream Chaser commercial spaceplane

The Dream Chaser, developed by Sierra Space Corp. of Broomfield, Colorado, is designed to transport up to six tons of cargo and crew to destinations in low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station. (Sierra Space)

A US spaceplane operator with a NASA contract to resupply the International Space Station is considering an airport in southwestern Japan as an alternative landing site.

The unmanned Dream Chaser, developed by Sierra Space Corp. of Broomfield, Colorado, is designed to transport up to six tons of cargo and crew to destinations in low Earth orbit, including the ISS.

The plane, which rides a rocket into space, will launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to a NASA blog published in November 2019.

Sierra Space, a private company, partners with Kanematsu Corp. from Tokyo and Oita Prefecture to provide an alternate landing site for the spaceplane at Oita Airport, according to recent statements from Sierra Space and Kanematsu.

Sierra Space chose the airport for its 3 km long runway and the prefecture’s position as a tourist and economic hub, The Mainchi newspaper reported on March 1. Discussions between the three over the use of the airport began around May, according to the report. He said the plane could land there in 2026 if the site is officially chosen.

“Through this project with Oita Prefecture and Kanematsu, we can envision a future where Oita Spaceport is a hub for Dream Chaser landings, allowing returning space missions to land in Japan in the part of our growing global network of landing sites,” Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice said in a Feb. 26 press release.

Sierra Space, privately owned by billionaires Fatih and Eren Ozmen, Turkish immigrants now based in Sparks, Nevada, is worth $4.5 billion, according to CNBC in April. In addition to the reusable Dream Chaser, the company is also developing Orbital Reef, a space station, with Blue Origin, the commercial space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, CNBC reported in November.

Its developers describe Orbital Reef as a “mixed-use business park,” a commercially owned and operated space station in low Earth orbit for research, industrial, international and commercial customers, according to OrbitalReef.com. It could be operational by 2030, when NASA plans to retire the ISS.

NASA contracted in 2016 with Sierra Space to resupply the ISS on at least seven missions carrying essential supplies like food, water and science experiments, starting in 2023, according to Sierra’s website. Corp. The contract also includes space station return and disposal service.

“We are delighted that Oita Prefecture and Kanematsu Corp. have joined forces through Space Port Japan’s member network to discuss the possibility of establishing a landing site in Asia for the Dream space plane. Chaser from Sierra Space,” Naoko Yamazaki, director of Space Port Japan, said in a press release. released on February 26.

Sierra Space works at several international landing sites, including Spaceport Cornwall in the UK, according to the company’s website.