Partial Privatization Eyed for Japan’s ALOS System

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The Japanese government is expected to decide before the end of the year whether to recast Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite (ALOS) system into a public-private partnership that could have serious effects on current U.S. and European use of ALOS data.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, has signed agreements with NASA and with the European Space Agency (ESA) to permit free distribution of ALOS data to researchers worldwide. NASA’s Alaska Satellite Facility processes and distributes ALOS data, which are downloaded with support from NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System.

In Europe, ESA has integrated ALOS, which carries an L-band synthetic aperture radar, into Europe’s third-party mission network and financed development of an ALOS European Data Node.

JAXA has tentatively planned the launch of a higher-resolution, broader-swath ALOS-2 satellite in 2013, but Japanese authorities are inviting industry to submit proposals to operate ALOS-2 as a business. Depending on the form of the resulting partnership, the new private sector operator may also have access to ALOS’s extensive data archive.

Nicolas Longepe of JAXA’s Earth Observation Research Center said a decision on whether to adopt a public-private partnership to market ALOS data is expected in November. He said he could not predict what the effect would be on the ALOS distribution agreements with the United States and Europe. These agreements are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010.