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Information Gathering Satellites - Background

Satellites with imagery information gathering capability fall into two categories: optical satellites that photograph images using optical sensors and SAR satellites that synthesize images using radar reflection from the Earth’s surface. Taking advantage of both by combining them interactively will be effective since SAR satellites, thanks to radar technology, can gather imagery information during the night or in cloudy conditions that optical satellites have difficulty handling.

Therefore, the Ministry of Defense has been using various high resolution commercial imagery satellites in an all-round manner, including IKONOS (optical satellite) and TerraSAR-X (SAR satellite) for imagery information gathering. High resolution commercial imagery satellites used by the Ministry of Defense excel in cost-effectiveness and resolution, but embody a potential risk that necessary images may not be gathered on a timely basis.

Also, there is the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS), a system composed of optical satellites and SAR satellites, which has been introduced by the inter-ministerial effort of the government for the purpose of crisis management, including response to security contingencies and large-scale disasters. The Ministry of Defense has also been making appropriate use of the IGS for various information analyses. In addition, Japan has also been on track for developing and operating civil imagery satellites.

Japan operated the JERS spacecraft with optical and synthetic aperture radar sensors yielding 18 m resolution, which did not provide a militarily useful capability. One proposal in the early 1990s recommended a network of up to three Japanese spacecraft with resolutions of at least 5 m soon after the turn of the century (References 33-36).

In 1997 Hitachi signed a deal to resell image data from US-based EarthWatch Inc., and Mitsubishi Corp. teamed with the Space Imaging Co. consortium led by Lockheed Martin and Eastman Kodak. Mitsubishi Corp. has announced its intention to build a commercial ground station for Ikonos, and NTT Data has signed an agreement with Orbital Imaging Corp. to receive and distribute data from the OrbView satellites.

The Science and Technology Agency presented a budget request to the Ministry of Finance in August 1997. Following negotiations between the two ministries Cabinet approval was given in mid-January 1998. Despite complaints from the US, the budget allocated 5 million yen ($38,000) budget to start development of a Japanese intelligence satellite. The STA submitted to pressure from some politicians within the Liberal Democrat Party who wanted at least the possibility of such satellites put on the agenda. The US pointed out that Japan would not have professionals to operate a satellite or to analyze the data. A study by NEC of developign a Japanese system suggested a $2.4 billion pricetag, and annual operating costs of $200 million.

The North Korean Taepodong missile launch in August 1998 provoked unanimous support in the Diet for development of an indigenous Japanese intelligence satellite system. Japan did not know of the launch until informed by the US military. Washington subsequently reversed course, and announced support for Japan's reconnaissance satellite efforts.

Mitsubishi is the Japanense partner in the Lockheed-Martin SpaceImaging Corporation IKONOS 1-meter resolution commercial satellite imagery system. The Mitsubishi Group proposed detailed plans for a series of four "information-gathering satellites". Two of the satellites would have optical sensors with 1-meter resolution, and the other two would have imaging radar capabilities. The proposed satellites would orbit at an altitude of 500 km, using a large satellite bus based on a standard commercial bus built by Mitsubishi. The potential role of US sub-contractors was unclear, given the potential for technology tranfer to Japanese prime contractors.

The system was characterized as a "multi-purpose information-gathering satellite" that could also monitor weather, natural disasters, smuggling and illegal immigration. These euphemisms were adopted to avoid provoking other countries in the region, and to avoid violating the 1969 parliamentary resolution on space policy. This re-interpretation of this vague space law would enable the program to proceed with ministeral authorization, rather than requiring a change in the law by the parliament.

On 10 September 1998 Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi announcedy that Japan might launch its own reconnaissance satellite, to improve the Japanese military capacity and facilitate monitoring missile deployments in North Korea. "One possibility is launching our own satellite. We have instructed ministries and agencies to study what we would be able to launch and what functions it would be able to perform." The main opposition leader, Naoto Kan, endorsed the idea, and a task force in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party conducted a series of meetings with government officials and constractor representatives to develop an implementation plan.

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