Japan wins first ever satellite order from Vietnam

10/29/2011
By

TOKYO (majirox news) –”Satellite export” sounds impressive and Japanese newspapers moan about “Japanese infrastructure exports,” but there are a lot of things going on. For example, Japanese companies have won an observation satellite order for the first time from the Vietnamese government.

The two environmental observation satellites will be used to monitor damages from flooding and other disasters and survey forest and farmland in day or night. Japan is highly experienced in this field, from its own work and in connection with the NASA and EU space program. Indeed, it is a world leader in geophysical monitoring.

Each satellite will weight about 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds), which is light and compact. As with many other developing nations, the Vietnamese see this as a project which will transfer knowledge to Vietnam’s nascent aerospace industry. Nigeria, for example, recently launched two satellites that were built in the UK. However, they were built by Nigerian engineers and mainly from Nigerian designs, working under the direction of more experienced English space scientists. Vietnamese expectations are similar, as one satellite will be built in Japan and the second one will be constructed entirely in Vietnam.

NEC Corp, a Japanese multinational IT company headquartered in Tokyo, will probably build the first orbiter and supervise Vietnam’s production of the second. The contractors will be responsible for all features of the project, from developing and launching two radar observations satellites to building a ground facility and training personnel to control the orbiters and analyze data, reported the Nikkei. The satellites may be blasted into space using the Epsilon rocket, which is being developed by IHI Aerospace Co. and others.

However, it is not common in the satellite business for the company that builds the satellite to also arrange launch services in their own country. Vietnam’s space program has connections with Russia and the EU’s space program as well as links to India. Similar to Vietnam’s recent decision to spread out the work of building nuclear reactors among several different suitors of Vietnamese business, Russia and Japan have apparently won bids for some of the planned reactors, it is hardly a foregone conclusion that even with Japanese assistance to build the satellite that there will be a Japanese launch.

One of the reasons why is that satellite launches are highly competitive, the market is crowded with competitors, some even launching their rockets from floating platforms at the equator, and there may be a chance to piggyback a Vietnamese launch with an EU or Russian launch. The first satellite is scheduled to be launched in 2017 and the second in 2020.

In exchange for the order, Japan is providing Vietnam with approximately 50 billion yen ($625 million) in loans, according to the Nikkei. The contract between the two countries will likely include a contract that sets the first tranche of the yen loan at 7.2 billion yen ($90 million). There will no international bidding for the project as the country decided to use Japanese technology, no doubt based on the fact that Japan has the most advanced environmental monitoring space technology of any nation in Asia.

This comes hard on the heels of similar Vietnamese diplomatic and commercial deals with Japan. As well as selecting Japan as possible bidders for two out of 12 nuclear reactors Vietnam has planned and Vietnam recently signed a naval agreement for regular exchanges of officers, joint training and drills in rescue operations.

In short, much of this can be seen in the light of Vietnam taking active steps that while not anti-Chinese, definitely moving further and further from being in the Chinese orbit or even giving the impression of being so. As one of the most successful economies in Southeast Asia, one of the “little tigers,” its moves such as contracting with Japan in developing satellites strongly highlight its independence.

The Japanese and Vietnamese governments are expected to sign an agreement on Monday at a summit meeting.

Japan is keen to strengthen its infrastructure exports such as its satellites and similar technologies to Southeast Asian countries.

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