A U.S. Air Force technician at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., secures components of a U.S. sensor payload that was shipped to Japan Jan. 5, 2023, for a scheduled launch aboard a Quasi-Zenith Satellite System QZSS satellite. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Maki

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force announced Jan. 17 it has delivered the first of two space sensor payloads scheduled to fly on Japan’s navigation satellites. 

Japan’s Office of National Space Policy in 2020 inked an agreement with the U.S. Space Force to host two optical sensor payloads on Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) constellation. The first sensor will fly on QZS-6 and the second on QZS-7, currently projected to launch in 2023 and 2024, respectively. 

QZSS, commonly referred to as the Japanese GPS, is a positioning system composed mainly of satellites in quasi-zenith orbits. The new satellites that will host U.S. payloads will be in geostationary orbits, a key location that would allow the United States to monitor critical assets in the GEO belt. 

The optical sensors were developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory under a 2019 agreement with the U.S. Air Force. The lab is working with the Japanese National Space Policy Secretariat and Mitsubishi Electric Company to integrate the sensors on QZS-6 and QZS-7. The two launches will expand the QZSS constellation to a total of seven satellites. 

“The delivery of the first payload represents an important milestone,” said Lt. Col. Brian Fredrickson, program manager at U.S. Space Systems Command. “While a lot of work remains, I’m happy to report that we’re on track to meet our commitments.”

MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Space Force personnel “will mobilize to Japan to support the integration and test efforts with their Japanese partners until completion of the launch of both QZSS host satellites,” he said. 

The payload was transported on a military aircraft operated by Air Mobility Command from Hanscom Air Force Base’s 66th Air Base Wing in Massachusetts to Yokota Air Base’s 374th Airlift Wing in Japan. 

Space Systems Command said the partnership with Japan “will set the stage for future collaborations.” 

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...