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Japan eyeing smallsats to monitor South China Sea: report

Japan is reportedly exploring a small satellite solution to enhance its monitoring and surveillance capabilities over the increasingly contested South China Sea. According to the Sankei Shimbun daily newspaper, the local government of the Senkaku Islands is looking at smallsats equipped with synthetic aperture radar sensing capabilities as a potential platform to supplement existing satellite surveillance to counter increased Chinese presence in the area.

The smallsats will be significantly cheaper than traditional satellites – several hundred million yen (several million USD) verses tens of billions of yen – and can boost the frequency of data gathering from daily to every few hours, the report said without attributing sources. The enhanced capabilities of a smallsat solution would allow the tracking of Chinese ships in the area, the paper added.

While the report gave few details about the possible smallsat deployment around the Senkaku Islands, it highlighted several smallsat projects in Japan that are already underway.

One company, iQPS in Fukuoka, is developing a SAR microsatellite weighing in at between 100-150kg, compared to traditional SAR satellites that weigh over 1,0002,000kg. iQPS’ solution employs a sensor called Circularly Polarised SAR developed by Professor Josaphat Tetuko Sri Sumantyo, a professor at the Chiba University and head of its Josaphat Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory, that enables weather and timeof-day independent high resolution Earth data gathering.

iQPS is planning a constellation of 36 such satellites that will deliver Earth observation in 10-minute intervals. The company expects to launch its first 1-metre resolution SAR satellite over the next 12 months.

The report also mentioned a project being developed by Professor Seiko Shirasaka at Keio University, who is working with a team on an “on-demand” smallsat solution for disaster response.

In a presentation to the International Systems & Concurrent Engineering for Space Applications Conference, Shirasaka’s team outlined a proposed smallsat – also using SAR – that would have the capability to initiate a launch within 3 hours of the start of a mission, with satellite deployment and initiation 40 minutes after liftoff and transmission of data from the satellite back to Earth within four hours.

The solution is designed to give emergency response efforts detailed data on affected areas after a disaster such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption. Tony Chan, Commsday


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