Pale Blue



Pale Blue awarded up to USD 27M for MEXT’s SBIR-3, to develop and operate propulsion systems critical to space debris mitigation

CHIBA, Japan (Feb. 6) – Pale Blue Inc. (Pale Blue) has been awarded a grant by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) under the Small and Business Innovation Research 3 (SBIR-3) program to develop and demonstrate key technology for space debris mitigation. The grant is worth up to USD 27 million (JPY 4 billion) and will enable the development and demonstration of a miniaturized water-based ion thruster and a water-based hall-effect thruster by fiscal 2027.

Water Hall-effect Thruster operating in a vacuum chamber

Water Hall-effect Thruster operating in a vacuum chamber

Most space debris consists of fragments generated by collision with other space debris and satellites that have ceased operation. In order to reduce space debris, it is imperative to ensure that future satellites will be equipped with the ability to avoid collision and perform deorbit maneuvers upon completing operation. As propulsion systems enable satellites to both avoid collision and deorbit, they are one of the most effective tools available today to mitigate space debris.


While more and more small satellites are expected to be launched going forward, especially in the 10 kg to 500 kg mass range, the need for propulsion systems that are both small enough to fit on small satellites and integration friendly will only continue to grow. Pale Blue will tackle this challenge by developing a propulsion system that uses water as propellant, which is not only safe and procurement-friendly but which can also be miniaturized. Under this program, Pale Blue will develop two types of propulsion systems; a water-based miniaturized ion thruster targeting 10-100 kg class satellites and a water-based hall-effect thruster targeting 100-500 kg class satellites, both of which will be demonstrated in orbit.


“We are truly honored to have been selected for the SBIR-3 program,” said Jun Asakawa, CEO of Pale Blue. “We will contribute to space debris mitigation through agile development of the miniaturized water ion thrusters and the water hall-effect thrusters.  This program will enable the product to rapidly enter the market after in-orbit demonstration, and will allow for quick adoption by satellite constellation operators. We are confident that this will lead to our vision of creating mobility that is core to the space industry.”


The SBIR-3 program supports startup companies that are ready for large scale technology demonstration and is designed under the Small Business Innovation Research program in Japan to promote innovation by facilitating the research and development executed by startup companies. The program aims to promote the social application of state of the art technologies by subsidizing grant projects. The SBIR-3 program awarded to Pale Blue is divided into three phases and will grant up to USD 27 million (JPY 4 billion). The grant amount is determined separately at each phase and with the first phase amount totaling USD 8.7 million (JPY 1.3 billion).


About Pale Blue

Pale Blue is a spacetech company spun out from the University of Tokyo in 2020. The company is dedicated to providing a propulsion solution for spacecraft and it produces a range of systems that use water as a propellant. Through its innovative propulsion technology, Pale Blue aims to create mobility that is core to the space industry.



Emily Okuhara, Manager of Marketing & Communications of Pale Blue