Report: Japan to Build Up to 100 Mini-Satellites

Associated Press + More

TOKYO (AP)—Japan is planning to launch a swarm of up to 100 mini-satellites, each about the size of a school backpack, to watch for events like natural disasters and traffic jams, according to a news report.

The Yomiuri newspaper says the satellites will each be no bigger than 20 inches (50 centimeters) along each edge and weigh 110 pounds (50 kilograms) or less.

They will have a common exterior shell, with inner components based on the tasks they are to carry out, and will be put into low orbit in two years at the earliest.

The report comes a week after Japan's government unveiled a massive spending package that includes a call for a new domestic industry for small satellites. Prime Minister Taro Aso's latest $150 billion stimulus plan sets a goal of 100 new small and medium-sized businesses in the industry within three years.

"Such satellites can be developed and deployed faster and more cheaply than typical satellites," said Science Ministry spokesman Tokuyuki Aso.

He said the ministry, together with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, was investigating the use of such satellites, but no official decisions have been made.

The newspaper quoted a ministry official as saying Japan aims to make 50 to 100 satellites for $3 million to $4 million each, and put them into space using an inexpensive Russian rocket.

The paper says the satellites can help collect data that will help in analyzing natural disasters, weather patterns and farming trends.

Tokyo is attempting to revitalize the country's space program, which has long been among the most advanced in the world but has recently been overshadowed by China. The country has also said it aims to have a two-legged robot walk on the moon by around 2020.

In January, Japan used one of its rockets to launch the first satellite to monitor greenhouse gases worldwide. The country launched its first satellite in 1970.