AETHER, Japan’s first commercial weather satellite demonstration, initiated by ALE – SatNews


ALE Co., Ltd.(ALE) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and joint research agreements for the development of meteorological satellites with NTT Device Technology Laboratories, NTT Corporation (NTT), RIKEN Center for Computational Science, and National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and initiated ETHER, a collaborative industry-university project to deal with natural disasters with commercial weather satellites.

In recent years, the severity of natural disasters has increased worldwide. In particular, the impact of climate change-related disasters is significant, with economic losses amounting to $2.245 billion (77% of all natural disasters) over the past 20 years. Due to geographical factors, Asia is more susceptible to natural disasters and Japan, completely surrounded by water, is one of the most affected countries.

To address these geographic conditions, the company launched the industry-university collaborative project, AETHER, to reduce unreasonable disaster damage using data from space. By developing a novel small sensor for Earth Observation (EO) and acquiring atmospheric data from space with a weather satellite equipped with this sensor, the accuracy of weather forecasts can be improved.

These satellites were developed by bringing participating organizations together and using their expertise in their respective fields to ultimately provide weather information suited to the current global environment in disaster-prone Japan. AETHER will be the first Japanese project to acquire observational data for weather forecasting with a commercial weather satellite.

Ideally, weather forecasts should be based on a wide range of stable observations, regardless of location or time. That said, observational data taken over the sea is not sufficient, as observational methods are limited compared to those acquired from land. In the case of island countries like Japan, acquiring a wide range of data, including over the ocean, is critical for weather forecasting in coastal regions.

Ssatellites are suitable for continuous observation of a large area under such conditions, and so far large government satellites have played this role and contributed to weather forecasting. However, large satellites are expensive to manufacture and operate and it is not easy for the government to continue operating them with a limited national budget.

On the other hand, weather forecasting is becoming increasingly important due to the increasing number of natural disasters. For example, heavy rains and typhoons are phenomena for which it is important to have atmospheric data several hours to several days before their occurrence, which represents a relatively short period of time for weather forecasting. In order to improve the prediction of these phenomena, more frequent and more detailed data are needed. Thus, more frequent and detailed data will require improved technology and improved related infrastructure.

AETHER will use a cubesat to drastically reduce the cost from hundreds of millions of dollars to millions of dollars per satellite, or from billions of dollars to tens of millions of dollars per project, a reduction of approximately 1/100. In addition, the company will develop a “microwave sounder” for this smallsat sensor to observe water vapor and temperature, important factors for weather forecasting, in the atmosphere day and night, regardless of weather conditions, one of the most important factors for weather forecasting .

With this additional data, ALE will be able to contribute to the prevention and mitigation of disasters within the framework of the commercial sector. By providing more frequent and additional observational data, we can complement large government satellites by creating a constellation of small satellites.

In AETHER, organizations specializing in each field have come together and set up an integrated research and development system, ranging from observation to forecasting. NTT and NAOJ are in charge of the research and development of the basic components of the small microwave sounder using the technology of sub-millimeter wave band devices in the field of communications and the reception technologies used for observation instruments in radio astronomy, respectively.

RIKEN will develop data assimilation and weather forecasting software using its meteorological knowledge of large computer systems such as the supercomputer”Fugaku“. ALE will be in charge of the overall coordination of hardware and satellite operations using space technology cultivated in other projects and will also oversee the commercial aspects of AETHER in order to connect the technologies and knowledge of each organization to the new meteorological activity.

The first stage will consist of developing elementary technologies, followed by a demonstration on the ground using a prototype, with the objective of a space demonstration within five years. Eventually, we plan to provide weather-related services, from observation data to weather forecast-based solution services.


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