Engineers from Canon Electronics, which is a unit of the Japanese imaging devices maker, have joined a team led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) that is building what will be the world's smallest satellite launch vehicle, about the size of a utility pole—the company decided to assist Japan in manufacturing a low-cost "mini-rocket" for future satellite launches—a number of private companies in Japan are working to help build the nation's space industry to greater prominence.
The company's experience designing and manufacturing devices, such as digital cameras, should help the JAXA team select the best rocket parts as well as make key control instruments smaller and lighter. Systems for changing the rocket's orientation or separating stages once in space have already been developed.
The three-stage rocket will be an upgrade to JAXA's two-stage SS-520, which carries instruments for research observations, and will measure 52 centimeters in diameter and less than 10 meters in length. The new version will cost less than one-tenth as much to launch as leading rockets and is expected to be used to lift smallsats in orbit. An initial launch is slated for early next year from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Satellites currently in use for weather observation or defense are typically large and are often commissioned by governments. Smaller devices developed by the private sector are seen as becoming more common, especially for use in managing to traffic, surveying farmland or disaster areas. Demand for lower-cost rockets capable of carrying those satellites is expected to surge and Canon Electronics has their own plans to launch a miniature imaging satellite next year in a step to expand aerospace operations.
Meanwhile, travel agency H.I.S. and ANA Holdings, parent of All Nippon Airways, have announced investments in PD Aerospace, a Nagoya-based startup working on manned spacecraft. The funds will help develop key components such as engines. That venture aims to make its first commercial spaceflight in 2023. If this mission comes to fruition, H.I.S. will help develop space tourism and shipping services, while ANA will support pilot training and help maintain the shuttles.