JAXA is holding a pair of microsatellites built in cooperation with Japan’s Hokkaido University in a joint project with the government-funded Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University (MAEU) aboard the ISS. The satellites being held aboard the space station are a pair of 50-kilogram microsatellites fitted with cameras intended to monitor agriculture and fisheries. The satellites are being held aboard the ISS while JAXA and the University are trying to decide what to do with them. Some Japanese officials fear the satellites could be used for military purposes after a coup by the junta seized power on February 1.
Satellite project managers said that neither the University nor JAXA wants to be involved in anything military because the satellites were not designed for that purpose. Discussions on what to do about the satellites are underway, but they don’t know when the satellites might be deployed. They hope the project could be restarted at some point in the future. Authorities say since the coup, university officials have been unable to contact Professor Kyi Thiwn, rector of MAEU.
A second University official said the contract with MAEU didn’t specify the satellites can’t be used for military purposes. However, all data collected by the satellites would be controlled by the Japanese university and couldn’t be independently accessed by Myanmar officials. The satellites were sent to the ISS by NASAs on February 20 as part of a supply mission to the ISS. Since being delivered to the space station, the satellites have been held inside the Japanese Kibo experiment module.
While the US and other Western countries have hit Myanmar with sanctions, Japan has yet to do so. Before the coup, Japan was one of the largest donors of aid to Myanmar. The satellites weren’t built for military specifications. They were intended to observe agriculture and fisheries using cameras fitted inside the satellites. Teppei Kasai, Asia program officer for Human Rights Watch, said it would be easy for the Army rulers of Myanmar to appropriate the technology for military use. The project was suspended by the Japanese university while being reviewed for potential human rights risks.