Japan’s iQPS to update technology for future radar satellites

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SAN FRANCISCO – Like many of its western counterparts, Japan’s Institute for Q-shu Pioneers of Space (iQPS) has ambitious plans for its Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) constellation.

By 2025, iQPS plans to operate a 36-satellite constellation to gather data and imagery with a resolution of one meter “of almost any point in the world within 10 minutes and to conduct fixed-point observations of particular areas once every 10 minutes,” iQPS spokeswoman Yuki Ariyoshi told SpaceNews by email. With that resolution, customers can obtain frequent imagery of land and buildings in addition  to observing moving objects like livestock, vehicles and vessels, she added.

IQPS launched its first 100-kilogram SAR satellite, Izanagi, in November 2019 on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The firm’s second satellite, Izanami, is scheduled to launch as early as December on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of Spaceflight’s SXRS-3 rideshare mission.

The key technology iQPS developed for SAR satellites is a 3.6m diameter parabolic antenna that stores compactly for launch and weighs about ten kilograms, Ariyoshi said.

After operating Izanagi for nearly a year, iQPS engineers plan to update the technology for future SAR satellites by expanding the surface area of parabolic antennas, increasing the amount of time satellites can observe targets of interest, widening the imagery swath and speeding up the flow of data from satellites to the ground. In addition, iQPS plans to equip satellites launched after Izanami with propulsion systems, Ariyoshi said.

IQPS executives are in discussions with more than 100 potential SAR imagery and data customers, Ariyoshi said.

Energy company Kyushu Denryoku, for example, signed an agreement to work with iQPS in May 2020 to explore ways SAR data and imagery can help Kyusyu Denryoku anticipate demand.

IQPS was founded by Tetsuo Yasaka and Akira Sakurai, professors emeritus of Kyushu University, and Kunihiro Funakoshi, a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries rocket developer, to establish a space sector in the Kyushu region of southwestern Japan.

Since it was founded in 2005, iQPS has raised nearly $28 million according to CrunchBase, a business investment website.