The Canon Group is fully mobilizing its technologies with Canon Electronics Inc.'s entry into the micro satellite industry.
We are steadily hitting milestones towards exploring the final frontier that is outer space and leading humanity to a new stage.
Toward the Next Frontier
In 2017, a rocket carrying the CE-SAT-I micro satellite, developed by Canon Electronics, was launched from a space center in southern India. At 17 minutes and one second after liftoff, the micro satellite entered space, successfully reaching its scheduled orbit. This tiny satellite, measuring only 500 mm x 500 mm x 850 mm, was a major step forward for Canon Electronics.
The endeavor began with an order from the president of Canon Electronics, Hisashi Sakamaki: “In the future, a top company will be one that can master space. Let’s be a trailblazer that sparks a dream in the minds of young people.”
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 Mr. Sakamaki’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 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 such components as a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera with a catadioptric optical system and a compact camera for wide-angle image capture. Using the DSLR camera, the imaging system can provide a 0.9 m ground resolution from a 500 km orbit within a 5 km x 3 km frame size, making possible the identification of individual cars on a road. The compact camera can capture wide-angle shots within a 740 km x 560 km frame.
Currently, CE-SAT-I is operating smoothly and sends image data to Earth every day.
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 challenges of radiation and operating in a vacuum were particularly difficult to overcome. We eventually solved the problem of heat dissipation by devising a clever radiative cooling method that uses metal to conduct heat away from where it is generated, even in a vacuum. Radiation presents the risk of causing system stoppages or malfunctions. The development team overcame this issue by testing a large number of semiconductor chips, and eventually found a moderately priced, commercially available chip that was resistant to radiation.
Semi-Customizing the Satellite
Canon Electronics’ micro satellite project is proceeding smoothly, but designing an optimal business model for micro satellites is still a major hurdle to overcome.
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.
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 our goal. The key to expanding this business is the sales of 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
With the CE-SAT-I satellite
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 (right)
General Manager Development Div.2 Satellite Systems Laboratory Canon Electronics Inc.
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