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Spring 2009 STAR program starts in earnest(STAR: Satellite Technology for the Asia-Pacific Region)

Interview on the STAR Program with Mr. Masanobu Tsuji, Senior Engineer JAXA

About the STAR Program

APRSAF Secretariat

We heard that from this spring the STAR (Satellite Technology for the Asia-Pacific Region) program, which JAXA had proposed at APRSAF-14 in November 2007 in India, has finally started in earnest and you are the key person in that program. First, please give us a brief summary of the program.

Mr. Tsuji

We will open the program office in JAXA's Sagamihara Campus in April this year and start the STAR program to develop small satellites with researchers and engineers of space organizations in Asia-Pacific countries. This program has two purposes. One is to provide persons in space organizations in the Asia-Pacific region with an opportunity to cultivate talented human resources. And the other is to increase the number of Earth observation satellites available in the Asia-Pacific region and ensure that the Earth observation needs in this region can be met in the future.

In this STAR program, we are going to carry out a range of tasks from needs survey to system study for an Earth Observation Satellite (EO-STAR) with a weight of 300-500 kg and we are also going to develop a Technical Experiment Satellite (Micro-STAR) with a weight of 50-100 kg for three years.

At present, more than 10 persons (including researchers and engineers) from India (ISRO), South Korea (KARI), Indonesia (LAPAN), Thailand (GISTDA), Vietnam (VAST/STI), and Malaysia (ANGKASA) are going to participate in the STAR program. In particular, persons form ISRO and KARI will be trainers. And also persons from JAXA will join the abovementioned members and the team will be composed of about 15 persons. The preparation of the office in JAXA's Sagamihara Campus has almost been completed and we are just waiting for researchers and engineers to be dispatched from space organizations in the Asia-Pacific region.

APRSAF Secretariat

What kind of satellite is the Micro-STAR satellite?

Mr. Tsuji

The Micro-STAR satellite will be a cube about 30-50 cm in size with a weight of about 50-100 kg. Its main mission is to verify the technology for the EO-STAR satellite as I will mention later. In addition to this mission, we have received some proposals for ways of using the Micro-STAR satellite, such as using it in a GPS Radio Occultation experiment or seismo-electromagnetic experiment, and using it in a constellation with satellites of different countries. We are going to select suitable missions from among them together with the participants of the STAR program when they are gathered here in JAXA's Sagamihara Campus.

We think we will launch the Micro-STAR as a secondary payload on a Japanese H-IIA vehicle but we may take the opportunity to launch it with another organization. I also think it is a nice candidate for being launched as a secondary payload on ISRO's PSLV vehicle.

APRSAF Secretariat

What about the EO-STAR satellite?

Mr. Tsuji

As for the EO-STAR satellite, we will carry out up to the conceptual study of the satellite. We have already conducted a preliminary needs survey and have received answers to questionnaires from some organizations related to remote-sensing applications. In the near future, after the participants of the STAR program have analyzed the needs, we are going to establish a mission for the satellite and carry out a concept study. I would be happy if some organizations came forward as sponsors so that we can carry out work after the conceptual design of the satellite has been established.

APRSAF Secretariat

Can you tell us the schedule for the STAR program?

Mr. Tsuji

The total time schedule of the STAR program is three years. I will show you the schedule of year 2009 and 2010. First, we will hold a satellite technology seminar for about three months. After that we will begin actual investigations and start development. We will also hold technical workshops in order to report the status of the STAR program and to exchange information on satellite technology.
We held the first technology workshop in October 2008 in Bangkok and there were 23 participants from 7 organizations. We plan to hold it once in 2009 and after that we plan to hold it once or twice a year.

APRSAF Secretariat

Can you tell us about the satellite technology seminars?

Mr. Tsuji

There are about 20 themes, and trainers from ISRO and KARI as well as JAXA experts are going to give lectures. In addition, we are thinking of having a lecture from persons who live in other countries, and we are having coordination about that. In the seminar, we are going to give lectures mainly on the knowledge required for designing satellites, including processes from needs analysis to satellite development.

APRSAF Secretariat

We heard that researchers and engineers from many countries will participate in the STAR program from this spring. How is JAXA preparing to receive them?

Mr. Tsuji

We have already prepared a STAR program office in JAXA's Sagamihara Campus in preparation for the start of the STAR program activities. And also we have already put a person in place to give support for the housing and living requirements of the participants. We have made preparations so that the participants of the STAR program will be able to stay comfortably in the Sagamihara Campus.

In the STAR program, we began holding a regular conference using WebEx (an Internet based meeting system) once a month from October 2008. For example, a total of 13 persons from 5 organizations participated in the regular conference in March 2009. In the WebEx meeting, in addition to explaining technical terms, we are going to talk about necessary requirements for coming to Japan and give information on living in Japan, among other things.

APRSAF Secretariat

Moving slightly away from the STAR program, I would like to ask another question. Mr. Tsuji, why did you choose to work in the field of space development?

Mr. Tsuji

One of my hobbies is satellite communication using armature radio. When I was in junior high school, AMSAT, which is an association of armature radio enthusiasts in the US, launched an amateur satellite and I manufactured an antenna by myself and gathered trajectory data so that I could receive a signal from that satellite.

After that, when I was thinking about finding a job after graduate school, I suddenly heard some news that NASDA (later JAXA) was going to launch a Japanese armature satellite, JAS-1, as a secondary payload onboard an H-I vehicle. This news was the trigger for me to find work in the space development field. In August 1986, I was a member of the H-I first launch team that launched JAS-1 and I remember that I was very happy. Even now, I communicate with radio amateurs using armature satellites and receive images from low-orbit meteorological satellites of NOAA and I enjoy that.

I want all the young people in every country to enjoy space-related hobbies more. There are many ways to enjoy space, such as making astronomical observations or model rockets, observing the International Space Station flying over.

Message for the APRSAF Members

APRSAF Secretariat

Finally, please give a message to all APRSAF members.

Mr. Tsuji

I would like persons of space organizations in the Asia-Pacific region to participate in the STAR program and carry out development of satellites together with us. And I hope we will be able to develop more satellites in partnership with APRSAF member countries in the future. I believe that such activities will be linked to making contributions to the Asia-Pacific region with satellite technology.

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