- Press Release
- Nov 30, 2022
Japan’s Micro-Lab Sat Mission: Tracking the Moon as an Improvised Target
The Micro-Lab Sat, which is in the post-mission phase, is now undertaking a new role in the “Moon tracking and satellite control experiment”.
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During the main mission period, the Micro-Lab Sat has carried out two experiments: one was to release a target from the satellite, acquire it with the onboard camera, and calculate its movement (relative location and attitude) using the onboard image processing computer (implemented mainly by the former NAL); and the other was to control the attitude of the Micro-Lab Sat to always acquire the released target in the center of a camera image (performed mainly by Tokyo University). The former was successfully achieved, and many significant results were also attained by the latter.
During the post-mission phase, the onboard camera and computer were still functioning properly, but the two onboard targets had already been released for the planned mission. However, we found another target, the Moon, which brightly reflected in the camera during our experiments.
The “Moon tracking and satellite control experiment” aims to make the Moon an improvised moving target, calculate its location using the image processing computer, and control the satellite attitude to always acquire the Moon in the center of a camera image.
On March 9, 2004, we carried out a functional verification test for the image processing system as a first step. An image of the moon was taken by the satellite that was in spin control mode, and we successfully calculated the moon’s location and extracted images around the moon.
The experiment with the Moon has time restrictions due to its waxing and waning (or the age of the Moon), and the next opportunity is in early April.
The verified technologies used in the already performed experiments are closely related to future space activities or “the image feedback technology for location, attitude, and control that enables a space robot to safely and autonomously approach and acquire a malfunctioned and drifting satellite in space in order to refill propellant or repair it.” The Moon tracking and satellite control experiment, which is a follow-up to successful experiments on released target acquisition led by NAL, is proceeding smoothly, and we are proud of our efforts to bring positive results from the merger of our former three organizations.
Micro LabSat: a small, handmade satellite to foster future engineers
Micro LabSat, weighing just 50 kg and with dimensions of about 70 cm x 50 cm, is a small satellite launched by the H-IIA F4 rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC) on December 14, 2002. It is a unique in that it is “handmade” – fabricated mainly by young JAXA engineers. The project’s aim was to foster innovation among young engineers and enable them to learn technologies to design, assemble, and test satellites. Their team performed almost all of the development and operation of the satellite, and all of the installed software was developed by JAXA. Furthermore, with a view to being able to use commercial, off-the-shelf components in the future, JAXA has had devices of its own design manufactured by specialized private-sector companies. This project also serves as a test case for the production of small satellites more efficiently and at reduced cost. With this program, Japan has taken another step forward in the field of space technology.
Various missions in orbit
Micro LabSat’s birth was born is not its only notable feature. Despite its small size, it has been assigned various missions, such as experiments using its own computer-based integrated control system and the stabilized attitude control system of a small satellite in orbit. It is expected that the results of these experiments will facilitate the production of a series of small satellites for various purposes. Micro LabSat, which has finished its major tasks, is currently flying in a polar orbit at the height of 800 km. Experiments with remote-testing technologies, using an installed camera, are now in progress.