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Series of Student Satellites to Be Launched

March 1, 2001
A series of three microsatellites designed and developed by Japanese university students is to be launched starting autumn 2001 and finishing in 2002.

"CubeSat" Satellites
The first to be launched will be two satellites designed by students of the University of Tokyo and the Tokyo Institute of Technology, respectively. The satellites, dubbed "CubeSats" for their cubic form, have sides measuring about 10 centimeters (4 inches) and weigh about 1 kilogram. The launch is scheduled for November.

The project is part of a program sponsored by the University Space Systems Symposium (USSS), in which both Japanese and American universities are taking part. The Japanese satellites are scheduled to be launched together with those of students of Stanford University and the University of California from the Baykonur space launch facility in Kazakhstan. A Russian DNEPR rocket, which can carry a total of 18 microsatellites, will be used to execute the launch.

The University of Tokyo's "XI-1" was designed and assembled by a dozen or so students. The satellite will be used to conduct various experiments, including testing of a single-crystal silicon solar battery attached to the outside of the satellite, and communications equipment and a lithium-ion secondary battery carried in the satellite. The Tokyo Institute of Technology's satellite will also be used for performance testing of telecommunications equipment but will carry out additional experiments, including test transmission of data to a ground station and transmission of commands to the satellite altering the data transmission protocol to be used. (The protocol defines the format in which data is transmitted.)

Observation of the Leonid Meteor Storm
A research team consisting of members principally from Tohoku University and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science is currently planning the launch of an observation satellite in order to study the Leonids at close range. The Leonids are a group of meteors that appear to come from the constellation Leo, and it is expected that a great storm of these shooting stars will be visible over North America in November 2002.

A satellite design competition takes place in Japan every year. It is regarded as a gateway to success for young satellite researchers in Japan. The Leonid observation satellite is based on a concept that was entered for the competition in 1999 by four fourth-year students of the Tohoku University Department of Engineering and awarded the Idea Grand Prix. Their idea of observing at close hand how a meteor shower looks from space as it pours down onto the Earth was highly rated.

In order to observe the Leonids as they begin to glow at an altitude of 200 kilometers, the observation satellite will have to be put into an orbit about 300 kilometers above the Earth. As they can be clearly observed from the Earth, there is a possibility of discovering the origin of life in some form, perhaps organic matter brought to the Earth from a meteor. The satellite will be cubic with sides of 50 centimeters (19.6 inches) and will have several types of digital cameras on board. The images captured by the cameras will be sent to a ground station. It is scheduled to be launched together with other microsatellites on a Russian or American rocket by August 2002. This is a project that has attracted international attention--11 institutions from Britain, United States, and six other countries are considering taking part by monitoring reception of test data transmissions and so on.

A Spur for Japan's Space Development Program
Up to now Japanese students have not been blessed with opportunities to build their own satellites and see them launched. For that matter, their teachers, too, have found it hard to know how to teach space technology in a practical way. Japan's space development program is currently rather in the doldrums, following several launch failures. It is all the more welcome, therefore, that the young engineers who represent the future of the country's space technology should be able to gain this experience in realistic conditions. A major goal of the project is precisely to nurture the enthusiasm of the young people who will be responsible for Japan's space development in the twenty-first century. There is a plan to develop the University of Tokyo's cube satellite into one with advanced functionality in three years' time. The day may not be so far when it will play a useful role in the country's actual space development program.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.