Tsukuba venture offers space burial service

A start-up in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, has launched a new funeral business: space burial.

In early April, Space NTK Co. successfully sent into space some of the cremated remains of 10 people and pets mounted on a rocket of the U.S. space company SpaceX.

“I want to make my daughter’s dream of flying in the sky come true.” Teruaki Nagakura, a 54-year-old company employee in Nabari, Mie Prefecture, had this wish after his 7-year-old daughter died of a brain tumor in 2009. So he entrusted some of his daughter’s ashes, which he had kept at home, to the company.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tomoko Kasai, president of Space NTK Co., holds a container in which cremated human or pet remains may be placed, in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

The remains were stored in a special container, which in turn was placed into a metal box. The box was loaded into the upper part of the rocket, which was launched from Florida on April 1. The upper part was detached from the main body of the rocket. According to the company, the detached section with the metal box will orbit at an altitude of about 500 to 600 kilometers for several years and then burn up when it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere.

Nagakura also put some of his own hair into the box, along with that of his wife and one of his daughter’s grandmothers. “We can have a family trip in space,” he said.

Space NTK President Tomoko Kasai originally ran a company offering more conventional funerary services. When she was a child, her mother told her, “When people die, they become stars and watch over people on the ground.” This vividly remembered remark led her to start the space burial business in 2017. In the autumn of 2020, Kasai concluded a contract with SpaceX to use its rockets, with help from acquaintances as well as through such efforts as attending international conferences to establish connections.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A special container used for a space burial

Companies in the United States and other countries have also offered similar space funeral services.

Kasai watched the rocket’s launch in Florida. “I was deeply moved to witness the moment when Japan’s space funeral service began,” she said. “There is no better memorial service than to be able to remember the deceased every night as they shine in the night sky.”

The cost of a space burial is ¥550,000, including tax, for a partial burial of up to 50 grams of remains. The next launch for the company’s space burial is planned for January next year.

“We want to make a space burial a new option for natural burial,” Kasai said.