Japan, Ukraine Launch Satellites to Monitor Environment Around Fukushima, Chernobyl

Japan and Ukraine will jointly launch two small satellites to monitor environmental damage near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and Ukraine’s Chernobyl power plant, Japanese officials said Thursday.

The space launch vehicle, the Ukrainian-designed Dnepr rocket, will lift off early Friday morning Japan time from the Dombarovsky space center in Russia’s Ural region carrying 33 satellites from 17 countries including the two Japanese ones.

Japan’s state-run University of Tokyo developed the two satellites, while the rocket is operated by ISC Kosmotras, a Moscow -based joint venture owned by Russia and Ukraine .

The University of Tokyo, Japan’s top university, said it has developed the two satellites with low costs with less than 300 million yen (about $2.9 million ) per unit.

The joint Japan – Ukraine satellite project would be a key step for Japan’s space development efforts with low costs, university officials said.

The launch had been planned for last year but fell behind schedule.

Officials with links with Ukraine had expressed concern about the delay amid worsening ties between Ukraine and Russia , but project leader Shinichi Nakasuka, a professor at the University of Tokyo , said the delay was not caused by the political situation.

The two satellites are the Hodoyoshi-3 and Hodoyoshi-4. The Hodoyoshi-3 satellite measures 50 centimeters by 70 cm and weighs 56.5 kilograms. The Hodoyoshi-4 satellite is slightly bigger at 63.7 kg.

The two satellites will take photos of the two nuclear power plants and surrounding areas regularly and receive data from instruments near the plants, the officials said.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely damaged by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami which hit northeastern Japan . In April 1986 , the world’s worst nuclear disaster hit the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine.

Nakasuka said the two satellites will also monitor river levels as part of efforts to prevent flooding. A total of 22 countries, such as Japan, Vietnam , Thailand and Bangladesh , will receive relevant data.

The Dnepr rocket, which was originally developed as an intercontinental ballistic missile named SS-18, was repurposed as a space launch vehicle. The three-stage rocket measures 34.3 meters in height with a diameter of 3 meters.

University of Tokyo officials said the Dnepr rocket has successfully launched satellites 18 times.

Last year, the rocket put into orbit a meteorological satellite for Japan’s Weathernews Inc.

Engineering News-Record