On December 12 at 0121 GMT, Japan successfully launched a new spy satellite into orbit atop a H2-A rocket. The satellite, built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for roughly 390 million euros, is part of Japan’s response to the threat of North Korean missile launches. The launch had originally been scheduled for December 11th, but had been pushed back due to poor weather conditions.
“The project is aimed at boosting security and monitoring land in case of sizable natural disasters like the one in March,” said an unnamed government official according to Bankok Post, referring to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant caused by an earthquake and the resultant tsunami. “If everything goes smoothly, it will be the first radar satellite under the programme,” the official continued. “With the radar satellite, we can introduce wider usage of the system.”
If the newest addition to the Japanese spy satellite constellation functions correctly, it will allow for intelligence-gathering during cloudy conditions, which is not possible using Japan’s three currently operating optical spy satellites. Japan had successfully placed in orbit two radar satellites prior to Monday’s launch, but both ceased to function after orbital insertion. Japan successfully launched a fourth optical spy satellite in September, but the satellite is not yet operational.
The decision to develop a Japanese satellite intelligence system was made in 1998 following the launch of a North Korean missile over Japanese territory into the Pacific ocean. Japan launched the first satellite into orbit in 2003. In 2009, North Korea launched what is believed to have been a 3-stage Taepodong-2 missile, in defiance of international pressure against the test.
The video below shows the September launch of the most recent Japanese optical spy satellite.