A U.S. sensor payload to be hosted on Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) sits on pallets inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft at Yokota Air Base, Japan, May 10, 2023. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jarrett Smith

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force announced May 17 it has delivered the second of two payloads to be hosted on Japanese satellites under an agreement the United States signed with Japan in 2020. 

The two U.S. payloads are optical sensors developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory. They will be hosted on Japan’s geostationary Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) satellites. The first payload was delivered earlier this year.

These payloads will augment the Space Force’s space domain awareness capabilities, the Space Systems Command said in a news release. 

QZSS, commonly referred to as the Japanese GPS, is a satellite navigation system operating from inclined, elliptical geosynchronous orbits. It was developed by the Japanese government to augment Global Positioning System coverage  in the Asia-Pacific region. 

There are currently three QZSS operational satellites, and three more are projected to launch in the next two years, QZS-5, QZS-6 and QZS-7. The U.S. payloads will be hosted on vehicles 6 and 7. 

Launch schedule uncertain

The launch dates for QZS-6 and QZS-7 have not yet been announced. They were projected to launch in 2024 but that appears unlikely after the recent failure of the inaugural launch of Japan’s H3 rocket. QZS-5 was scheduled to launch on H3 in 2023. 

Space Systems Command said the partnership with Japan exemplifies U.S. efforts to work more closely with allies. 

“Our ability to pivot our space domain awareness architecture effectively depends on collaborative efforts with our allies and partners,” said F Schnell, director of the Space Systems Command’s Space Domain Awareness Acquisition Delta at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...