A new partnership makes special patrol satellites in space a reality

A new Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between Northrop Grumman and IHI to build satellite guardian satellites.
Christopher McFadden
Patrol satellites could be on the way.
Northrop Grumman and IHI are developing patrol satellites.


In recent years, the number of satellites orbiting the Earth has been increasing rapidly, with over 8,000 currently in orbit and potentially up to 100,000 in the next ten years, according to the United Nations. This group of satellites is fundamental to modern society. From meteorological satellites to broadcasting and communication satellites, they support many economic and social activities and are a part of the social infrastructure.

So, ensuring these satellites are safe and secure is becoming increasingly important. But some satellites are easy targets, making them vulnerable to malicious attacks. There have also been more cases of strange spacecraft getting close to other satellites, which worries satellite operators. This is why Japan's National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy call for strengthening "Space Domain Awareness" (SDA), which includes the need for special, maneuverable patrol or police satellites.

"Recently, we have seen a rise in military surveillance efforts from other countries, which is becoming a national security threat," explained Fumiharu Namiki, Vice President of Aero Engine, Space, and Defense Business Area, IHI Corporation.

"We need to characterize suspicious satellites to understand the threat. Northrop Grumman’s demonstrated experience in this field and the long-standing cooperation between our companies makes them our best partner to pursue solutions to these problems. We will cooperate together to contribute to the stable use of space," he added.

In response, Northrop Grumman and IHI Corporation (a Tokyo-based company) have agreed to work together to make small, highly maneuverable satellites for SDA missions. These satellites will use satellite buses already made by Northrop Grumman. IHI Corporation has been providing situational awareness data services for a long time.

These services help satellites run safely, and the company has built up a lot of knowledge about how satellites move in geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO). IHI Aerospace, part of the IHI group, has also made propulsion devices for commercial satellites and spacecraft made by Northrop Grumman. The two companies have worked together and trusted each other for a long time.

On the other hand, Northrop Grumman has a long history of making products for the ground and space that help monitor the space environment and find, identify, and describe space objects. The company is a leader in rendezvous and proximity operations in low-Earth-orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous orbit (GEO). It provides customers with critical logistics, servicing, and inspection capabilities across various mission domains.

The goal of the partnership between Northrop Grumman and IHI Corporation is to make space a more important place, especially for activities in GEO and global, national security space that can be done sustainably. With the two companies combined expertise, they are working towards an affordable and effective SDA solution for Japan, the United States, and the world.

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