TOKYO -- To bolster its surveillance abilities, Japan will start developing next fiscal year a high-resolution data collection satellite for a planned launch in fiscal 2021.
The satellite will have a resolution of less than 25cm, sharp enough to identify different makes of automobiles on the ground. To efficiently transmit the huge amounts of imagery data collected, a relay satellite will also be developed.
Japan currently operates four surveillance satellites, two of which use radar and provide resolutions of about 1 meter, and a pair of optical satellites that offer resolutions of around 60cm and can be used during the day in clear weather.
The Japanese government uses surveillance satellites for such task as scouring for signs of North Korean missile launches. A higher resolution will enhance those abilities.
Work on developing a dedicated data relay satellite will also begin next fiscal year. Because the data collection satellite will be in low orbit, passing only several hundred kilometers above the Earth's surface, it would not be able to transmit information until directly over Japan. And the fact that higher resolution increases data volume raised concerns about data transmission problems. To prevent this, the relay satellite will be put in geostationary orbit 36,000km above the surface, allowing surveillance data to be received about 12 hours a day. The government is aiming for a launch in fiscal 2019.