November 19, 2010

Japan Developing Low-Cost Monitoring Satellites

Government and corporate officials said Friday that Japan is developing a low-cost surveillance satellite to aid disaster relief and other purposes as it looks to start expanding its reach into the emerging markets.

Trade ministry official Shuichi Kato said that Japan's trade ministry is collaborating with NEC Corp. and other companies to develop a small satellite by 2012 that is just a fifth the cost of conventional monitoring satellites.

NEC will contribute technology it developed for the Hayabusa asteroid probe program, which saw the first spacecraft collect asteroid particles and bring them back to Earth.

Kato said the satellite would be ready for launch in 2012 and sales would be aimed at countries like Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand as well as Dubai and Kazakhstan.

He said the government is also talking to Vietnam about providing the satellite as part of official development aid.

He said the ministry estimates that the satellite system would cost about $120 million.

NEC's spokesman Shinya Hashizume said the satellite alone would cost $75 million.

Officials said the multi-purpose satellite will be capable of monitoring the impact of natural disasters like flood damage as well as other tasks like forest conservation or mapping.

They said that although the U.S. dominates the satellite market in terms of sales value, Japan's main competitor is European consortium EADS Astrium, whose shareholders include French and Spanish governments as well as Germany's Daimier AG.