The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is planning a standardized platform for satellite constellations, which will be designed by Mitsubishi Corporation, to pave the way for a orbiting constellation of satellites that will be formed by a relatively affordable modular unit. Satellite constellations are usually made up of many identical small satellites, depending on the simplicity and economies of scale of deployment to open up space to a wider audience.
Traditional satellites are often large, expensive, and custom-designed for specific purposes. This provides enough flexibility for end users, but it also makes designing and deploying them time consuming and expensive.
At the same time, a single satellite for constellations is much simpler. Often, they are much smaller, and they are usually square and focused on basic technologies: communication systems or broadband access services. While they may be basic in themselves, their advantage lies in large-scale deployment.
As Constellation suggests, the idea is that multiple identical satellites can form a grid and gather their capabilities. Separately cheaper and easier to launch – usually taking advantage of the increasing availability of commercial space cargo services – they have been used to provide features such as Internet access, media services and round-the-clock photography.
Now JAXA is taking action. JAXA has commissioned Mitsubishi Corporation to design a standardized platform for The Innovation Satellite Technology Demonstration 2 (ISTD-2), a small satellite weighing less than 220 pounds. Mitsubishi will figure out how to design, manufacture and operate them, including key components for posture control and to ensure adequate power.
“The new platform will enable the unified functionality and services provided through the global constellation of small satellites,” Mitsubishi said. The new satellite developed under the leadership of JAXA for the project is aimed at verifying and demonstrating equipment, spare parts and microsatellites developed by private companies, universities or other entities in orbit. “
JAXA has reached an agreement with Space BD to deploy small satellites and will use H-IIA and H3 launch vehicles. Meanwhile, the first ISTD-2 satellites are expected to be launched sometime before March 2022, Mitsubishi said. They will use the Epsilon launch vehicle from the Naepo Space Observatory in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.
It is worth noting that the constellation of satellites has not yet been fully accepted. SpaceX, for example, has been criticized in recent months for its Starlink constellation. Astronomers complain that a large number of Internet satellites interfere with the telescope’s view. SpaceX recently asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for approval to add another 30,000 to its existing 12,000 satellites.