Japan’s ‘little satellite that could,’ 27cm³, launches into space

Image: Weathernews

Our readers may remember a feature that we did on Japan’s Weathernews (TSE:4825) back in April. The company has made a major business in the area of weather information, and now has offices in 27 cites across 13 countries.

Recently the company has been working to develop a sort of ‘polar routing’ service, to help marine traffic navigate icy Arctic waters. To date, they have relied on data from government satellites, but in order to get their service going they need a dedicated satellite.

To that end, Japanese startup Axelspace has been enlisted to help with the project, as a company offering micro-satellites whom Weathernews deemed preferable to outsourcing to the government or a large manufacturer. They’ve produced an ultra-compact satellite that is 27 cubic centimeters, and weighs just 10kg. Dubbed the WNISAT–1, the tiny satellite launched today from Yasny Cosmodrome in Russia, piggybacking on top of a Dnepr–1 rocket [1]. According to the Axelspace blog this evening the launch was successful, and the satellite’s signal was successfully received. It is expected to pass over Japan at 20:40 tonight.

Ground control at WN headquarters
Ground control at WN headquarters

The device will make 15 orbits of the earth every day, equipped with optical and infrared cameras, which it will use to take shots covering 500km² of the Arctic Seas ice. These images will be sent back to Weathernews’ own Global Ice Center where they will be analyzed and put to use as part of their polar routing system. It’s expected that the WNISAT–1 will have a lifespan of one to three years.

As a provider of micro-satellites, Axelspace is an interesting company. They’re capable of producing these tiny satellites at a fraction of the cost, also using just a fraction of the development time necessary with conventional satellites. They design their satellites specifically to their customer’s needs as well, which is another competitive advantage.

Amazingly, this is not the only startup to venture into space recently. Back in October we’ve also seen San Francisco-based startup Elysium Space roll out its space burial service here in Japan, following its initial US-launch in August.

[Written with contributions from Tsutoha Izumisawa]

  1. The launch was originally intended to take place back in September, but was postposed until today.  ↩