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Japan launches, orbits radar spy satellite

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The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully put a radar satellite into orbit, ready to watch over its own shores and keep an eye on North Korea.

While Japan already has three operational optical satellites, it hasn’t had an awful lot of luck with radar systems, which are essential to penetrate cloud cover and operate at night. Two previous radar satellites have made it into orbit, but then malfunctioned relatively quickly and are now considered space junk. There’s also an optical satellite launched in September that isn’t fully operational, according to Space.com.

The satellite was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center at 0121 GMT aboard a JAXA H-IIA launch vehicle, similar to those that service the International Space Station. Toshiyuki Miura, spokesman for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which built the satellite, told AFP that all was going according to plan – so far. “The rocket was launched successfully," he said. "The satellite was separated into orbit around the Earth later."

A second radar satellite launch is planned for next year, and the eventual goal is to have coverage in place that will make responding to both overseas threats and domestic disasters a lot easier.

"The project is aimed at boosting security and monitoring land in case of sizable natural disasters like the one in March," a government official said, adding that the current three satellites were used to track that month's earthquakes and tsunami.

"If everything goes smoothly, it will be the first radar satellite under the programme," the official said. "With the radar satellite, we can introduce wider usage of the system." ®

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