Reaching Space Reaching Space

Satellite Development

The Canon Group is fully utilizing its technological capabilities to push the envelope of development with Canon Electronics Inc.’s entry into the micro satellite industry.
High-resolution images taken by one such satellite are already reaching Earth.

2018/12/27Activity introductions

#Imaging technologies#Social contribution#Space#Mechanical engineering#Electrical engineering#Computer science#Physics

Toward the Next Frontier

June 23, 2017—A rocket was launched into orbit from a space center in southern India, carrying the CE-SAT-I (Canon Electronics Satellite I). The micro satellite entered space 17 minutes and one second after liftoff, successfully reaching its scheduled orbit. This tiny satellite, measuring just 500 mm x 500 mm x 850 mm, is a major step forward for Canon Electronics.

The endeavor began with an order from the top: “In the future, a top company will be one that can master space. Let’s be a trailblazer and give young people new hopes and dreams.” This surprise declaration from Hisashi Sakamaki, President & CEO of Canon Electronics Inc. was made in 2009. Sakamaki also set a target, “in 2030, we will achieve sales of 100 billion yen from our space business.”

The Canon Electronics Inc. Future Technology Laboratory, currently in charge of the effort, is led by Senior Managing Executive Officer & Group Executive Tsumori Sato, who says he was initially quite surprised by the President’s declaration. However, Canon Electronics already had the technological foundations needed to develop a micro satellite—the motor technologies for attitude control of the satellite, lens technology ranging from macro to zoom shooting and miniaturization technologies for eliminating wasted space. In addition, Canon Electronics could leverage the electronic, mechanical, optical, materials and other technologies of the Canon Group to make the satellite development possible.

The result was the CE-SAT-I. In a small chassis, the company fit a single-lens reflex camera with a catadioptric optical system, a compact camera for wide-angle image capture, and other features. Using the digital single-lens reflex camera, the imaging system could provide a 0.9 m ground resolution from a 500 km orbit within a 5 km x 3 km frame size, capable of identifying individual cars on a road. The compact camera could take wide-angle shots within a 740 km x 560 km frame.

Space: A Different Environment

Canon Electronics had confidence in its manufacturing capabilities, but developing a micro satellite was no easy task. Ground and space are two entirely different environments. “We had real difficulties in three technical areas,” says Nobutada Sako, Group Executive, Satellite Systems Laboratory, Canon Electronics Inc. “One was the absence of gravity; two was the vacuum environment; and three was the unrelenting radiation in space.”

The vacuum and radiation challenges were particularly difficult to overcome. Since there is no air in a vacuum, a fan will not create convection even if it turns. That means the heat generated by a CPU or other unit cannot be dissipated, and the system will shut down when the CPU overheats. The problem was eventually solved by devising a clever radiative cooling method that used metal to conduct heat away from where it was generated.

Radiation presents the danger of causing a system stoppage or malfunction. If radiation gets into the CPU, the data being written might be altered, causing an error. The development team solved the problem by testing a large number of semiconductor chips, and eventually found a moderately priced, commercially available chip that was radiation resistant.

Semi-Customizing the Satellite

Canon Electronics’ micro satellite transmitted visual images of places all over the planet back to Earth daily. The project was proceeding smoothly, but achieving 100 billion yen in sales by 2030 would still require overcoming a major hurdle—designing an optimal business model for micro satellites.

Currently, the company plans to generate revenue through sales of micro satellites, sales of parts for micro satellites, and sales of the visual data recorded by the satellites. Canon Electronics considers the sales of micro satellites to be the primary driver of this business, and by semi-customizing micro satellites, the price can be reduced and delivery times shortened to expand the market.

However, according to Yoshito Niwa, General Manager, Development Div. 2, Satellite Systems Laboratory, Canon Electronics Inc., “Sales of micro satellites alone will not help us reach that target. The key to expanding business is sales of the visual data.” The high-resolution images captured from space contain information that is valuable in many ways. At present, however, Canon is searching for clients who might require such data. What kind of information can be obtained, and who can use it? Going forward, Canon will work to improve its image analysis technologies with the goal of finding the perfect customer match for this information.


The further miniaturized CE-SAT-III
measures 100 mm x 100 mm x 300 mm


Nobutada Sako (left)
Group Executive Satellite Systems Laboratory Canon Electronics Inc.

Tsumori Sato (center)
Senior Managing Executive Officer & Group Executive Future Technology Research Laboratory Canon Electronics Inc.

Yoshito Niwa, Ph.D. (right)
General Manager Development Div.2 Satellite Systems LaboratoryCanon Electronics Inc.

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