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Air Warfare

Japan to extend satellite life with private help

7th May 2021 - 08:05 GMT | by Koji Miyake in Tokyo

RSS

The Japanese MoD is seeking help from private company Astoscale to preserve the life of its satellites. (Astroscale)

Japan is exploring sophisticated technologies that will extend the life of satellites already in orbit.

On 8 February, the Japanese MoD contracted Astroscale to research technology relating to the extension of the life of satellites, including fuel replenishment and other consumables, repairing damaged parts and detailed inspections.

Astroscale is a Japanese space business venture founded in 2013 that concentrates on space debris removal. Outsourcing defence work to a private venture company is unusual for the conservative Japanese MoD.

Astroscale substantially merged with Effective Space Solutions in Israel in June 2020, and it has now moved into geostationary satellite life extensions.

Japan will launch its Space Situational Awareness (SSA) satellite in 2026 to monitor space debris and killer satellites that are difficult to monitor by ground-based radar.

In general, geostationary satellite lifecycles are 10-15 years because satellites consume fuel to control their attitude or correct their orbits. The SSA satellite will consume even more fuel because it will frequently change orbit. The MoD believes extending its life will lead to cost reductions.

To realise in-orbit servicing, high technologies such as rendezvous/docking, robotic arms and propellant refuelling are necessary. For the former, technology must detect the relative positions and velocities of two satellites using sensors, and adjust positions and trajectories accordingly.

For robotic-arm functions, it is necessary to master propellant injection port cap removal/installation, connecting propellant supply lines and operating valves. For propellant refuelling, pressure fine-tuning is needed to inject propellant at a pressure that does not exceed limits.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force established a Space Operation Squadron in May 2020. It uses ground-based radar now and will operate the SSA satellite in the future, perhaps in conjunction with Astroscale.

The Space Operation Squadron currently consists of only 20 personnel, but it will expand to 100.

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