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Japanese venture plans to put 50 Earth observation microsatellites in orbit by ’22

Axelspace Corp., a space business venture originating from the University of Tokyo, will attempt to place into orbit 50 microsatellites from 2017 to 2022 to provide image data covering many parts of the globe.

The satellite image data are expected to find wide-ranging applications, including crop forecasts for large-scale farms in North America and the surveillance of oil fields in oil-producing countries.

It will be the first Japanese company to offer such a service using a number of small satellites.

Axelspace has developed 80-kg microsatellites that are 60cm by cm 60 by 80 cm in dimension each. A cluster of 50 such satellites will cover 45 percent of all land on Earth and make daily updates to information on almost all geographical areas where economic activities are carried out.

A single microsatellite can be manufactured for only one-100th of the production cost of a large satellite. Thanks to the low cost, the prices of the planned satellite image service are expected to be 10 percent lower than similar services.

By analyzing accumulated data, Axelspace also plans to provide a service to predict future developments in many fields, officials said.

The company plans to send into orbit three microsatellites in 2017 and start providing image data the following year.

A group of investors will kick in ¥1.9 billion to help finance the start of the service and will work with Axelspace to operate it. The investors include Tokyo-based venture capital Global Brain Corp., major trading house Mitsui & Co., broadcast and communications satellite operator Sky Perfect JSAT Corp. and weather information service provider Weathernews Inc.

“We’re looking at a stock listing in the future,” Axelspace President Yuya Nakamura said of financing plans for the launch of the microsatellites.

The satellite image data to be supplied by Axelspace will have a resolution that is able to identify automobiles on land, but cannot recognize human faces.

The market for high-resolution images capable of facial identification has seen intensified competition among U.S. businesses. In addition, handling such images involves privacy protection and other problems.

While steering clear of the competition and to reduce risks, Axelspace anticipates demand for its service in a wide range of areas, including weather observation and studies on traffic volumes.