Andrew Mollet/Tokyo

Japan's Rocket System is now marketing launches for low-Earth-orbit (LEO)satellites from 2001. It has given Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) a contract to develop a mounting device which enables the launch of up to five such spacecraft on a single lift-off on the country's H2A launcher.

The Japanese company, which is owned by 73 firms, including MHI, has bookings for 20 geostationary-satellite launches, but plans to make the LEO service a second pillar of its launching business.

Around 400 LEO satellites used for cellphone systems and high-speed data transmission are expected to be launched worldwide in 2002, helped by a strong demand for replacements for satellites which have come to the end of their lives in orbit of between Ìve and eight years. Counting on such demand, the firm will solicit orders from US satellite-communications carriers and others.

The MHI mounting device will enable several of these light satellites to be launched aboard the H2A commercial launcher, although the unit is expected to add some ´300 million ($2.5 million) to the launch cost per rocket.

Sources within Japan say that a programme is under way to increase the country's competitiveness in satellite building, by using commercially available electronic components in preference to the highly expensive parts now built to defence specifications.

An experimental satellite is understood to be targeted for launch in fiscal year 2000, making use of components available in commercial sectors such as the automotive or electronics industry. A Ministry of International Trade and Industry research centre will co-operate with 13 manufacturers to build the test craft.

Source: Flight International