Mitsubishi Electric, eyeing constellation market, to build demo smallsat for JAXA

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WASHINGTON — The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has selected Mitsubishi Electric to build a 100-kilogram satellite that would set the foundation for a constellation-grade satellite that could be serially produced. 

Mitsubishi Electric said Dec. 22 that it will build the Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration-2 as prime contractor for JAXA. The satellite is scheduled to launch on a Japanese Epsilon rocket by the end of March 2022. 

Mitsubishi Electric mainly builds satellites for the Japanese government, such as the Quasi Zenith Satellite System, Japan’s regional equivalent to GPS. But the company also competes for commercial satellites. Last year the Mitsubishi Electric-built Es’hail-2 satellite launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 for Qatari operator Es’hailSat. 

“Numerous private-sector services are expected to make good use of small satellites covering the entire globe,” Mitsubishi Electric said in a news release. “Going forward, Mitsubishi Electric will develop the new satellite for Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration-2 and a standardized platform for small 100kg-class satellites, which the company will use, along with its well-established DS2000 platform for large standardized satellites, to meet a growing range of needs.”

At 100-kilograms, the Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration-2 satellite will be 50 kilograms lighter than a OneWeb low-Earth-orbit broadband satellite. 

Minoru Ueda, general manager of Mitsubishi Electric’s Asia division, said the company has not done much work with smallsat constellations, but sees a path into that market by leveraging its experience in supplying components.

“We are now seeking to contribute for the small satellite programs using our very unique component heritage and technology,” Ueda said at the APSAT 2019 conference in June. 

He highlighted the company’s experience with solar power modules and low-cost batteries as examples. 

“If small satellites will replace GEO satellites, nobody knows,” Ueda said. “It will be decided by pricing, I think, so MELCO is continuously making that effort to meet the best price.”

The Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration-2 spacecraft is the second installment in JAXA’s tech demo program. The first consists of six nanosatellites and one roughly 200-kilogram microsatellite called RAPIS-1  that launched Jan. 18 on an Epsilon rocket. 

Remote sensing startup AxelSpace built RAPIS-1, the RAPid Innovative payload demonstration Satellite 1, which included hardware from JAXA, NEC, Japan Space Systems and three academic institutions.