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Tokyo-based space startup seeking to be FedEx for the Moon gears up for IPO

A Japanese space startup, Ispace, is gearing up for a listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The company has selected several bankers for its proposed IPO.

As humans scramble for resources that may support life beyond Earth, an escalating US-China space rivalry and Elon Musk’s ambitious Mars mission have heated up hundreds of firms across the world seeking lucrative contracts.

Among them is a modest Japanese startup hoping to establish a name for itself as soon as this month with what may be a first for a commercial enterprise.

Tokyo-based ispace Inc. plans to launch a lunar lander with numerous government and commercial payloads, including two rovers, as soon as November 22. The startup’s great aim, like Musk’s idea of a Martian colony, is to create a human city on the moon by 2040.

But first, it aims to become the lunar equivalent of FedEx, generating money by transporting research and commercial equipment to the moon.

Ispace has selected six bankers for their potential initial public offering (IPO). The business is planning to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and has appointed lead managers from SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., Bank of America Corp., Morgan Stanley, and Nomura Holdings Inc.

As of July, Ispace had raised around $237 million in total, $57 million of which was borrowed. In August of last year, it was valued at around 76 billion yen ($511 million) in a Series C stock fundraising. The financing was led by Incubate Fund and included six additional investors, including SoftBank’s former chief strategy officer Katsunori Sago, as well as funds run by Innovation Engine Inc. and SBI Investment Co.

Ispace’s first voyage will put not only the technological credentials it has developed since its inception in 2010, but also the trust of its investors, one of whom is a former SoftBank Group Corp. official, to the test.

A lot is riding on its success, including a potential IPO as early as this fiscal year and a greater slice of an industry pie that Morgan Stanley projects could increase to $1 trillion in two decades starting in 2020.

Ispace’s founder and Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Hakamada, said, “There’s a vast market for services like these. If something goes wrong with this attempt, we can still use the feedback from the failure to boost the quality of the next launch.”

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