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Japan’s Sony Corporation to Enter Satellite Optical Communications Market

Japan as photographed by Envisat. Photograph courtesy of the European Space Agency.

Japan’s Sony Corporation is seeking to enter the New Space sector by manufacturing optical communication devices for small satellites, based on Sony’s decades-long experience in manufacturing compact disc (CD) players.

This marks a diversification of Sony’s business empire, and it is also a strong signal that Japan’s great trading houses and companies are looking for opportunities in the New Space sector in Japan and abroad.

Sony plans to develop these communications devices via its optical disc technology, which is used in products like CD players. The technology allows devices to read data stored in disc pits a few hundred nanometers wide. The goal is to enable these devices to communicate with high precision satellites over 1,000km above the Earth’s surface.

In partnership with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Sony Computer Science Laboratories intends to begin testing the devices this year, including attempting to communicate with Kibo, Japan’s experiment module on the International Space Station (ISS). Sony hopes to develop the basic technology within two years.

According to the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies, the global market for space-related businesses was worth U.S.$329 billion in 2016. Government-led projects accounted for only 23% of the total. The significant market’s expansion has been driven by commercial interests, with private companies seeking to develop services that use technologies – including satellite imagery.

As the number of space start-ups continues to grow, a market for small satellites and light rockets has developed as well, due in large part to their lower cost.

Sony has good company in this new marketplace. U.S. company SpaceX managed to cut the costs of rocket production by using parts sourced from the private sector. Japanese manufacturer Canon Electronics also entered the aerospace market with a low-cost control system. According to an article in the Nikkei Asian Review, Sony aims to reduce development and production costs by using existing technology and set the standard for optical communications devices in the industry.

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