(SpaceX rockets return from take off to land vertically on the ground)[Photo courtesy of SpaceX]

TOKYO - The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency will begin flight tests in June to develop technology for the reuse of the first stages of launch vehicles, a government source said Saturday.

JAXA expects reusability to slash rocket launch costs to around a hundredth of the current 7 billion yen ($66 million), strengthening Japan's competitiveness in aerospace amid growing demand.

The agency has been preparing since 2016 for the flight tests, involving 7-meter long rockets that are 1.8 meters in diameter. Once the rockets reach a height of 100 meters above ground, they will be controlled to hover, move sideways and land.

In 2022, JAXA plans tests with a larger Callisto rocket that will reach an altitude of 30 kilometers before returning to near its original launch site or an offshore platform.

Japan plans to partner with Germany and France on the project, which is expected to cost over 15 billion yen, as securing a site is likely to be difficult.

U.S. space transportation firm SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, was the first to demonstrate such technology in 2015 with its Falcon 9 first stage that flew around 80 kilometers, changed direction and landed vertically on the ground.

Japan's rocket launch costs are around 40 percent higher than Space X.

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