Palm sized satellites, 3D printed rockets herald new era in space

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Japan

Publishing organisation: Nikkei, Nikkei Asia

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-12-22

Language: Japanese, English

Authors: Aiko Munakata, Masashi Ijichi, Ryo Namiki, Kazuhiro Kida, Shohei Yasuda, Yoko Kawakami, Gaku Ito, Akihiro Tojo, Shohei Morikawa


Aiko Munakata, Masashi Ijichi and Ryo Namiki are data journalists.

Aiko is the main writer of this project and she visited New Zealand to collect interviews and materials. Ryo used his programming skills to caluculate satellites orbit from large dataset and contributed the content.

Kazuhiro Kida is a data editor and lead this project.

Shohei Yasuda is a designer and lead the front-end development. Gaku Ito is a developper and created 3D models of rockets and satellites. Yoko Kawakami, Akihiro Tojo and Shohei Morikawa also contributed the project from design and development side.

Project description:

Thanks to the advances in technology and the drop of launch costs, launching satellites has become more feasible than ever. It is expected that more than 20,000 satellites wil be launched within the next 10 years for observation and communication purposes. This project illustrated the front lines of space industries, focusing on the private sector, and forecasted how satellite business revolutionize our life in the future by using 3D techniques.

Impact reached:

We published the content in Japanese and English.

Published in late December 2022, Japanese version was read by more than 11,000 readers as of mid-January 2023. This content contributed to acquire some paid subscribers.
We got a good reputation from experts of satellite industries and they recommended our content on social network.

Techniques/technologies used:

We used Blender for 3D modeling. We sourced a 3D model of rocket from open source site Sketchfab and modified it by using images provided from Rocket Lab, US/New Zealand based startup.

Satellite location data was collected from Space-Track.org and we plot them on orbits with Python. For visualization of satellites, we used JavaScript library Three.js.

Context about the project:

Throughout this project, Japanese space industry experts Space Shift helped us to collect materials. After repeated negotiations with Rocket Lab and other space companies, we got a chance to enter the sites where usually are restrictive area. Our journalists actually visited factories and labs in New Zealand and UK.

Since Rocket Lab’s CAD data of the rocket was not available for publication due to the security reasons, we reproduced it by combining open source information and the results of our interviews.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

This is an experimental project and Nikkei’s first content created by using 3D techniques. Space is a relatively new area for visualization and best to try new visualization tools.

Instead of having readers explore the map or watch a video, we used Scrollytelling to show movement, such as rotation and zooming in. We have devised a way to show the main points of the graphs and textual information in a way that is easy for the reader to understand.

Project links: