Three weeks after launch, Vietnam satellite isn’t phoning home

The NanoDragon satellite was successfully launched into outer space from Japan's Kagoshima prefecture on Nov. 9.
2021.12.03
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Three weeks after launch, Vietnam satellite isn’t phoning home The Epsilon-5 rocket carrying nine satellites including Vietnam's NanoDragon lifts off from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture of Japan, Nov.9, 2021.
Kyodo via Reuters

A Vietnamese satellite intended to help monitor shipping in the disputed South China Sea has failed to emit any signal for more than three weeks since it was launched into orbit, a senior official told state media.

The NanoDragon satellite was successfully launched into outer space from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Japan's Kagoshima prefecture on Nov. 9.

Developed and manufactured entirely in Vietnam, the four-kilogram (nine pound) satellite is expected to use its automatic identification system (AIS) receiver to monitor vessel movements, especially in the South China Sea. It will also test the accuracy of its attitude control – the means by which it adjusts its orientation -- using an optical imager.

AIS transmits a vessels’ position and other data, making them trackable. Large ships are required to broadcast their position with AIS in order to help avoid collisions.

Up to now, Vietnam has been monitoring movements of ships via ground AIS receiving stations and having a specific-purposed AIS satellite could greatly improve its ship tracking capabilities in the turbulent waters of the South China Sea.

However 22 days after the satellite launch, Vietnam’s earth station has yet to receive a signal from the NanoDragon, Deputy General Director of the Vietnam National Space Centre (VNSC) Le Xuan Huy was quoted as saying by Vietnam News Agency.

VNSC discussed eventualities that could happen to NanoDragon and sought measures with its Japanese partner MEISEI and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to establish communications, Huy was quoted as saying. VNSC’s engineers are “actively seeking a signal from the satellite,” he added.

MEISEI is the supplier of test equipment for NanoDragon. The satellite underwent and passed four rounds of safety inspection by JAXA, including environmental, shock and functional tests, Huy said.

Vietnam chose Japan to launch NanoDragon as a symbolic gesture to demonstrate the strategic partnership and trust between the two countries, according to the Vietnamese Ambassador to Tokyo Vu Hong Nam.

Last week Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh became the first foreign leader to visit Japan for talks with new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office in October. The two leaders reportedly shared “serious concerns about the situation in the South China Sea.”

The VNSC plans to launch an earth observation satellite, the LOTUSat-1, in 2023 and it’s unclear whether latest developments around the NanoDragon would lead to a delay in this plan.

Currently Vietnam has six operating satellites in orbit, three of which were developed by Vietnamese scientists.

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