Japan: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is developing a series of small scientific satellites, called the SPRINT series. These satellites can be built quickly and inexpensively and will allow more scientists to conduct research in space. These new satellites vary in purpose -from observing the geospatial environment including the Earth’s upper atmosphere, magnetic fields, solar plasma and cosmic rays to astronomy and planetary observation. Covering such a wide range of missions requires flexibility and speed – shortening the development time is key. JAXA aims to cut development time and cost by creating “semi-made-to-order” satellites – the first such project in the world.
Shujiro Sawai, Project Manager, SPRINT satellites, JAXA, explained that these small scientific satellites weigh 500 kilograms or less, to complement conventional large and mid-size satellites. They can be used in many research projects that would have required larger satellites in the past.
“The advantage with SPRINT satellites is flexibility. We are working on the world’s first modularised satellite. A satellite is equipped with various instruments. We treat each of the instruments as a separate module, and we are trying to build a satellite that can perform a variety of tasks with a simple change in the combination of modules. It is like personal computers that are built on a standard frame but can be loaded with a different CPU, graphics card, memory, etc. Whether the computer is optimised for graphics or office work depends on the customer. Likewise, a satellite can have the same basic frame, with components selected for different applications,” said Sawai.
Sawai added that JAXA aims to launch three satellites in about five years. It is also developing a solid-fuel rocket, the Epsilon Rocket. The first small scientific satellite, SPRINT-A, will observe the atmosphere of Venus, Mars and Jupiter in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) from Earth orbit, at an altitude of about 1,000 kilometres. It is scheduled for launch in 2013.
“Our goal is to build ‘semi-made-to-order’ satellites to cover various needs, so we would like to see their use expanded beyond science, to commercial applications,” Sawai continued. “For example, we are conducing joint research with ASNARO (Advanced Satellite with New system ARchitecture for Observation), on a satellite that will be launched by USEF (Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer), which is run under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. ASNARO is led by the ministry, and is the first step in a large-scale programme that includes plans for the export of artificial satellites in future. For the basic mechanics, we will apply the same technology used for JAXA’s small scientific satellites. At this very moment, we are together conducting a development test.”