Japanese intelligence-gathering satellite successfully launched

An all-weather spy satellite for the Japanese government launched Tuesday on top of an H-2A rocket, extending the country’s surveillance reach with coverage of North Korea and other strategic locations worldwide.

The radar-equipped reconnaissance craft lifted off at 0420 GMT (12:20 a.m. EDT) Tuesday from the Tanegashima Space Center, Japan’s primary launch base, located on an island in the southern part of the country.

Liftoff occurred at 1:20 p.m. Japan Standard Time, marking the 39th launch of an H-2A rocket, and the second H-2A launch of the year.

The 174-foot-tall (53-meter) H-2A rocket lit its hydrogen-fueled LE-7A main engine and fired away from Tanegashima, heading south over the Pacific Ocean with the aid of two strap-on solid rocket boosters.

The H-2A launcher climbed away from Tanegashima, a picturesque spaceport nestled on a rocky overlook on the Pacific Ocean, with 1.4 million pounds of thrust from its main engine and twin solid-fueled boosters.

The strap-on boosters burned out less than two minutes after liftoff and jettisoned, and the H-2A’s payload fairing jettisoned around four minutes into the mission. The first stage main engine switched off approximately six-and-a-half minutes after launch, then the first stage separated to fall into the Pacific Ocean. The upper stage’s LE-5B engine, burning a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, ignited to place Japan’s newest surveillance satellite into polar orbit.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration confirmed in a statement that the Information Gathering Satellite deployed as planned from the H-2A’s upper stage.

JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the H-2A rocket’s prime contractor, did not provide a live webcast of Tuesday’s launch. Japanese launch officials typically provide live video coverage of space launches, but not for missions carrying the country’s spy satellites.

The satellite launched Tuesday, named IGS Radar 6, carries a synthetic aperture radar imaging payload capable of resolving objects on the ground day and night, regardless of weather conditions.

The spacecraft’s specifications, including its imaging performance, are kept secret by the Japanese government. But the government has acknowledged the satellite will join a fleet of Information Gathering Satellites operated by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which reports directly to the Japanese government’s executive leadership.

The IGS Radar 6 satellite is Japan’s seventh radar reconnaissance satellite. The radar observers operate in tandem with electro-optical surveillance satellites, which offer better resolution, but only when their imaging targets have clear skies overhead.

Japan started its spy satellite program in 1998 after a North Korean missile test flew over Japanese territory.

Tuesday’s launch was delayed 24 hours from Monday to allow inclement weather to move away from the Tanegahima launch site.

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