Japan Plans a Floating Spaceport for Out-of-This-World Travelers

  • We want to say the future is here today, but this thing is actually probably years off from becoming real.

With bulbous steel-and-glass towers, funnel-like hangars, and a rippling roof dotted with cupolas and patches of greenery, it looks like something out of a science fiction movie. But this structure could leave the realm of fiction and become Japan’s first commercial spaceport.

Not only that, the whole building complex would float on water. This is Spaceport City.

Or, well, it would be if it ever gets built.

This whole thing sounds like a speculative vision of the future, and at the moment it is just that. The designs and concepts are in place, though, and there may soon be a real market for it.

Spaceport City is an ambitious design concept intended to tap into the emerging space tourism industry. If that sounds familiar, you may have heard Elon Musk gushing about it.

The project proposal is a collaboration between Noiz Architects, Space Port Japan Association, communications company Dentsu, and design firm Canaria. Together, these companies are looking to bring space to Japan’s major cities.

Spaceport City is not the first project of its kind in the world. In the U.S., two other spaceports are currently in the plans.

Houston is looking to transform Ellington Airport into a “thriving aerospace community”. Meanwhile, in Colorado, the Colorado Air and Space Port – or CASP for short – is in the planning phases.

Should Spaceport City ever materialize, though, it would take the concept of a spaceport to all new heights.

Images ©2020 canaria, dentsu, noiz, Space Port Japan Association.

Not Your Grandpa’s Space Ships

The Japanese have a knack for getting things flying through the skies. Take cars, for example. It’s no wonder then that the planned spaceport is, at least on paper, a state-of-the-art facility.

“Spaceport City is a new type of transportation hub dedicated primarily for space travel,” says Noiz Architects. “It connects traditional means of transportation with commercial space shuttle operation, but also encompasses all functions associated with discovering space and learning about it.”

On the side of going into space, the spacecraft taking off from Spaceport City are probably not what you’d imagine. If you’re thinking about rockets spewing fire and exhaust as they rise straight up to the sky, think again.

Instead, the spaceport is intended to suborbital space ships, reported CNN. These machines look deceptively much like regular airplanes, and they take off the same way too.

The “suborbital” part of their name means just that. The spacecraft will not fly all the way up to the Earth orbit. They do go high enough, though, that any passengers onboard can say they’ve genuinely been to space.

Space Is Not Enough

One of the sights would-be space tourists could see from their space ships is the spaceport facility itself. Noiz says that the facility’s roof is designed to function as a “fifth façade” and is a thing to see in itself.

“The wavy landscape of the roof allows to create patios, open-air gardens, and even farmlands in various scale, while providing covered public space for people and other means of personal mobility,” the architects say.

Spaceport City would not be just a glorified airport, either.

“From space fashion shows to international conferences, the majority of events, research, and business regarding space will be held within its premises,” Noiz plans.

The architects are attempting to make Spaceport City a tourist attraction even for regular travelers. The four floors of the eventual building would house everything from research and business facilities to a university, a hospital, a 4D IMAX movie theater, restaurants, salons, and more.

To connect the city to its neighboring Tokyo, Noiz plans to link it with public transportation lines, including trains and buses. Transportation within the complex would happen through a variety of means, some of them as futuristic as Spaceport City itself.

“The entire building composes a small ecosystem with internal smart transportation – self driving cars, autonomous train, and electric scooters,” the designers say.

“Not only employees and visitors but also any items and objects in this building can be spotted and quickly transported to any part of this complex.”

Aiming for the Big League

It’s kind of hard not to dismiss the whole project as one architectural office’s outlandish fever dream. But the fact of the matter is that space tourism is an up-and-coming industry.

Elon Musk, who we already mentioned, is looking to organize the first private citizen spaceflight through his SpaceX program by 2021. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is operating on a similar schedule. That firm has actually already sold more than 600 seats on its as-of-yet unscheduled space flights.

“With the emergence of NewSpace, the space industry has been expanding on a yearly basis, and is expected to grow in scale from around $380 billion at present to more than $900 billion over the next 30 years,” says Space Port Japan, one of Spaceport City’s developers.

The association sees the construction of the spaceport as integral to putting Japan at the forefront of the Asian space travel industry.

The concepts and numbers surrounding Spaceport City are impressive. Overtly ambitious projects targeting emerging businesses have a history of either never getting off the ground or failing miserably, though.

It remains to be seen whether this particular project will shoot for the moon or crash and burn.

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