Cubesat that launched on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will test water-based propulsion

Artist's illustration of Sony's Star Sphere-1 satellite in orbit.
Artist's illustration of Sony's Star Sphere-1 satellite in orbit. (Image credit: Sony)

A Japanese propulsion company developing water-based thrusters is set to test its system on a Sony nanosatellite launched earlier this month.

Pale Blue was chosen by Sony to provide in-orbit propulsion for its Star Sphere project, which will offer still images and 4K video services for artistic and educational use and provide "space perspectives."

Sony's first satellite for the project launched along with 113 other satellites atop a Falcon 9 rocket on SpaceX's Transporter 6 mission on Jan. 3. The 6U cubesat is named Star Sphere-1 and carries a full-frame camera.

Related: Fly to space and back with SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in amazing Transporter-6 video

The satellite is also equipped with a Pale Blue water vapor propulsion system, which will be used for the company's first in-space demonstration of its water engine at the end of January. 

According to Pale Blue, the small thruster will prolong the satellite's lifetime by 2.5 years by helping it maintain its orbit. The company says that water-vapor propellant offers an environmentally friendly solution to the growing demand for small satellites with built-in thrusters.

"I am very pleased that our safe, sustainable and low-cost water thruster can contribute to this project, and we are committed to the development of the space industry," Jun Asakawa, CEO and co-founder of Pale Blue, said in a statement.

Pale Blue was founded in 2020 and is developing a range of water-based propulsion systems building on  research carried out by the Japanese space agency JAXA and the University of Tokyo.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.