Japan launches SHIKISAI & TSUBAME satellites

Shikisai's onboard cameras capturing solar array deployment. Image courtesy of JAXA.

On 23 December 2017, at 10:26 a.m. JST (1:26 a.m. UTC), Japan’s space agency JAXA launched two satellites , Global Changing Observation Mission – Climate “SHIKISAI” (GCOM-C) and the Super Low Altitude Test Satellite “TSUBAME” (SLATS). This is the first time Japan has launched more than one satellite at a time, and placed both into different orbits using a single launch vehicle.

The launch was conducted at Japan’s Tanegashima Space Centre using the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 37, Japan’s workhorse rocket. JAXA confirmed the successful separation of Shikisai at 16 min after liftoff, and of Tsubame 1 hr 48 min after liftoff.  Both satellites, according to JAXA, have successfully completed their critical operation phases.

Shikisai, the first satellite in Japan’s GCOM-C series, has a launch mass of approximately 2100 kg and a design life of 5 years. The satellite, which will be in a Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO), carries the Second-generation Global Imager (SGLI), whose primary mission is to study global aerosol distributions. The satellite will take atmospheric measurements related to the carbon cycle and radiation.

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Tsubame, the mission’s secondary payload, is a 50-kg microsatellite developed by the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The microsatellite will function mainly as a technology demonstration, to verify commercial components such as its lithium-ion battery; the satellite is powered by ion thrusters. Tsubame will also test newly-developed gyros for spacecraft maneuverability, and polarized X-ray and gamma-ray radiation sources.

JAXA’s next launch will most likely be of its second Advanced Small-size Radar Satellite (ASNARO-2), using the small launcher Epsilon-3. The launch, postponed from November 2017, is now scheduled for 17 January 2018 from the Uchinoura Space Center. Epsilon-3 has only been used twice, in 2013 and 2016.



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