New Challenge to Realize a Beautiful Mosaic, A Former JAXA Director Moves On. 1st Half

This is the fifth interview with a member of WARPSPACE, Takashi Hamazaki, who retired from the board of directors of JAXA and is now a member of the WARPSPACE board.

He has been at the forefront of Japan’s space development since his time at NASDA, but why did he join WARPSPACE now? In this interview, Mr. Hamazaki and our CEO, Tsunemachi, discuss what he thinks about the future of the space industry as well as the company.

1. First of all, please tell us again about your history.

[Hamazaki]

I have been working for NASDA/JAXA for 41 years, and have launched many space projects together with NASA, ESA, and other overseas space agencies, as well as with Japanese space-related companies, participating in development, launch, operation, and utilization together, sharing the joy of success and the pain of failure.

But unfortunately, at that time, we didn’t have much involvement with space-related venture companies. What triggered a major change was when President Tachikawa at the time said, JAXA should also establish a department to launch new businesses. I was appointed General Manager of the Corporate Planning Department and General Manager of the New Business Promotion Office.

Later, the government’s policy on space development also steered us toward the importance of exploring and challenging new businesses and technologies, and the gears clicked into place and we were able to launch a new business domain.

2. Please tell us how you became involved with WARPSPACE.

[Hamazaki]

My successor as Director of the New Business Promotion Department said, “WARPSPACE is starting a new business and they need someone with satellite development experience to support them. I think Mr. Hamazaki, with his challenging spirit of trying out different ideas, is the right person for the job. Are you interested? And I was introduced to the idea.

[Tsunemachi]

I said, “Right now, WARPSPACE is like playing wall tennis without a wall. I said, “Nowadays, WARPSPACE is like playing wall tennis without a wall, and it would be great if you could just play the role of a wall.

[Hamazaki]

That’s right. I really sympathized with this story and thought I would like to work with these people.

[Tsunemachi]

In addition, I felt that he was not intimidating and was very flat with us even though he was a high career person. He had a very ideal way of dealing with us, and in a good way, I didn’t think he was a great person from JAXA at first.

- Did you have any resistance to joining a team that is mainly made up of young people?

[Hamazaki]

At JAXA, I’ve also done a lot of training for new employees and all-night technical discussions with young project team members, so in that respect, WARPSPACE is no different, and I don’t feel any discomfort at all.

Decisions that involve costs and risks are made by the top management such as project managers according to their authority and responsibility, but in technical discussions, the only thing that matters is whether or not the argument is technically correct, regardless of hierarchy or experience. However, I think the expectations for young people are quite different between WARPSPACE and JAXA. Because JAXA is a large organization, there are many people who are even more senior than the senior staff, and they correct the mistakes of the young people and give them feedback. Also, the decisions made by JAXA affect the activities of each company, so careful and reasonable decisions are always required.

On the other hand, WARPSPACE requires speedy decision making, even if there are some mistakes, redoing, or corrections. I always try to be aware of this difference. The members of WARPSPACE have such a hierarchical relationship.

I like the fact that the members of WARPSPACE are able to get along with each other in a flat state without having that kind of hierarchy or feeling of being a former JAXA board member. I want to enjoy this position.

3. What is the ideal image you are aiming for with a flat team?

[Hamazaki]

In 1988, the Japanese government decided to participate in the International Space Station program with the United States, Europe, and Canada. NASA had established a space station program office in Reston, Washington, D.C. and I was one of the first NASDA employees to be assigned there. NASA is a large organization, and I think there were over 200 people in Reston alone. I spent the next three years in the U.S., working with people from different cultures and backgrounds, competing with each other as colleagues and international negotiators, and I believe that this experience greatly influenced the rest of my life.

At the time, Japan was in the middle of the bubble economy, and the whole country was in an atmosphere of Japan As Number One. I wondered, Am I going to be an American? Will I be an American or a Japanese person? I was curious, but in the end I ended up in the middle, and came home with a bit of both.

I mentioned that JAXA requires a more rigid work style and WARPSPACE requires more speed. Ideally, I would like to see a mosaic pattern in which challenging people with a venture spirit and conservative people with a strong sense of responsibility are mixed together without killing each other’s characteristics, creating a new harmony as a whole. I like the idea of a world where everyone with different colors is doing different things. But if you look at it as a whole, they are in harmony.

The current WARPSPACE team is an interesting mosaic, but in my opinion it is still lacking in breadth, and I think it is important to gather a broader range of people with different areas of expertise, backgrounds, and personalities, and to think with new ideas, but also to think based on past knowledge. Experienced people tend to have a louder voice, but I also believe that they should not dominate, and I try to imagine what is different now from what I have done in the past, and what the younger team members’ comments are based on.

For me, this is where the challenge and the joy comes in.

The world that WARPSPACE and JAXA are aiming for may be very different, but I strongly feel that it is precisely because we are different that we can show our unique characteristics to the extreme and demonstrate the significance of our existence.

4. Competition for a better society where venture and old space coexist.

- In the last decade, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of small and medium-sized private companies entering the space industry. What kind of gears need to mesh in order for small companies to push space development forward and for private industry to generate the kind of power that the government would want to get on board?

[Hamazaki]

I am concerned that there are so many people in the world who debate between two options, such as “Is a venture company better or is an old company better?

I think the best situation is not for one side to dominate the space industry, but for venture and old space to coexist and work together in a flat relationship to enhance and strengthen each other.

Although competition with other companies is necessary as a characteristic of a company, I believe that it is not just about beating the other company, but rather, like in sports, it is about competition to improve each other’s skills and to achieve a better society as a whole. In a society that openly encourages bright competition, rather than winning and losing, we can coexist in friendly rivalry, but we cannot all be the same.

[Tsunemachi]

I think that flat collaboration is exactly right. Not only in space but also in Japan, some venture businesses and small and medium-sized companies have been surviving on the framework of the government, but nothing will come out of that. Rather than doing business based on subsidies, I believe that a relationship in which the government follows up as a result of the company’s (the owner’s) pursuit of its vision is flatter and more appropriate. I think we should take a start-up-first approach where companies come forward as part of the industry-government-industry-policy collaboration.

[Hamazaki]

In relation to this, I have always felt that what is important in business and work is “initiative” and “responsibility” . It is my feeling that many projects that did not go well or failed lacked a sense of initiative and responsibility.

If you zoom in on one part, the person in charge is taking a certain strong lead, and there are moments when it looks dictatorial in a way, but if you look at the whole as a mosaic, it will be harmonious, equal and flat.

This is also true for companies. Even if one company leads and appears to be dictatorial in the short term, it is important to achieve balance and realize the mosaic in the long term. In addition, I think it is also important to expand relationships with industries with which we have no existing relationship, while collaborating in the exchange of business values.

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To be continued in Part 2, Please take a look at this one too.

We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.