Myanmar’s first satellite is detained aboard the International Space Station after the Myanmar coup, as the Japanese space agency and a Japanese university decide what to do with it, two Japanese university officials said.
The $ 15 million satellite was built by the Japanese University of Hokkaido in a joint project with Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University (MAEU) funded by the government of Myanmar. It is the first in a series of two 50kg microsatellites equipped with cameras designed to monitor agriculture and fisheries. Human rights activists and some officials in Japan fear those cameras could be used for military purposes by the junta that took power in Myanmar on February 1.
This has suspended the deployment, as Hokkaido University holds discussions with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), two Hokkaido University officials said. “We will not be involved in anything that has to do with the military. The satellite was not designed for that, ”one of the officials, a project manager, told Reuters, asking not to be identified.
“We are discussing what to do, but we don’t know when it will be released. If it is stopped, our hope is that the project can be restarted at some point. ”The manager did not say when the satellite was to be deployed, or when JAXA would have to make a decision to move forward or delay it.
The second official from the University of Hokkaido said the contract with the MAEU did not specify that the satellite cannot be used for military purposes. However, the data from the spacecraft would have been collected by the Japanese university and could not be accessed independently by Myanmar officials, the second official said. After the coup, university officials were unable to contact the MAEU rector, Professor Kyi Thwin, the second official added.
JAXA officials could not be reached for comment. The MAEU did not respond to calls seeking comment, nor did a spokesman for the Burmese junta. The satellite was launched by NASA on February 20 as a small part of a large and varied supply payload for the International Space Station 400 km (250 miles) above the earth. It has since been stored by JAXA within the Japanese Kibo experiment module. JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi is one of seven crew members now aboard the space station.
Japan has close ties to Myanmar and is one of its largest aid donors. While condemning the violence, it did not take such a tough stance against the coup as the United States and some other Western countries that have enforced sanctions. Although the spacecraft was not built to military specifications, Teppei Kasai, Human Rights Watch’s Asia program manager, said it would be easy for Myanmar military rulers to appropriate the technology for military use.
“Then the Japanese universities involved should suspend the project and urgently review it for potential human rights risks,” Kasai said.
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- If it is stopped, our hope is that the project can be restarted at some point. ”The manager did not say when the satellite was to be deployed, or when JAXA would have to make a decision to move forward or delay it. The second official The University of Hokkaido said the contract with the MAEU did not specify that the satellite cannot be used for military purposes.
- EXCLUSIVE – The first Myanmar satellite held by Japan on the space station after the coup