Myanmar will be without its first-ever satellite after Japan decided to hold it for some time


The first Myanmar satellite is being held by the International Space Station after the coup that transpired in the country. The country had collaborated with Japan to develop it, and therefore, Japan’s space agency and its university involved in its development are weighing on the next decision. Hokkaido University actively participated in the $15 million satellite development with the support of the Myanmar Aerospace Engineering University (MAEU). The satellite is the first in a pair of two that have cameras for observing agriculture and fishing utilities. Concerned officials from Japan stated that they took this decision for fear that the cameras might be utilized for military services in the ongoing Myanmar crisis.

The coup has forced the postponement of the launch for this satellite while Hokkaido University conducts meetings with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the way forward concerning the matter. One of the officials added that they wouldn’t want the satellite to switch its intended purpose for military operations because it must fulfil its objectives first. The official wished to remain anonymous for security reasons in the interview with Reuters. The two teams are holding discussions before the deployment of the satellite. If they do not reach a unanimous decision, then the project could be stopped until the political disputes in the country are neutralized. The managers from both teams decided to keep the discussions confidential to prevent victimization of any of the team members.

The second Hokkaido University official stated that the agreement did not bar MAEU from utilizing the satellite for military operations. However, data gathered by the spacecraft would have to go through the Japanese students before they dispatch it to Myanmar officials. The official added that the university officials have been unable to connect with the head of MAEU, Prof Kyi Thwin. This technical problem has made the team be more suspicious of contacts made with the Myanmar government. The satellite was deployed by NASA last month with various payloads intended to make the mission docking at the International Space Station. JAXA decided to keep the cargo in its Kibo experiment module. JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi testified that the payload is still intact.

Japan has close relations with Myanmar and has been giving it significant donations. The country decided to stay away from making comments that reveal its stand about the coup like the United States and other nations have done. Asia program officer for Human Rights Watch, Teppei Kasai, stated that the spacecraft has no military configuration although the Myanmar army rulers might utilize the technology for military gains. Kasai urged the involved Japanese entities to suspend the project while it is reviewed for human rights risks.