Japan aborted the launch of a second pair of spy satellites to monitor North Korea shortly after take-off yesterday in a bitter blow to its efforts to enhance space and security programs.
"Shortly after the launch, we sent a destroy order to the rocket as we concluded that the mission cannot fulfil the purpose," said Shoko Yamamoto, a spokesman for the satellite launch project.
"We cannot tell further details, but at least we can say this mission ended in failure," Yamamoto said.
Television footage showed a Japanese H-2A rocket with the two spy satellites lifting off smoothly from a launch site on the southern island of Tanegashima some 1,000km southwest of Tokyo at 1:33pm.
But the governmental Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tanegashima Space Center decided to destroy the rocket and the satellites about 10 minutes later due to "some troubles in the rocket," public broadcasting network NHK said.
It was Japan's first launch failure since 1999 when it also destroyed a satellite rocket while in flight.
They had been scheduled to join another pair of spy satellites, which were launched in March in a US$2.3 billion dollar government project to put four spy satellites into full operation this year.
The launch of the second pair, originally set for Sept. 10, had been delayed by prolonged preparations and replacement of parts. It was further pushed back after trouble occurred in the H-2A rocket hours before its lift-off on Sept. 27.
The latest failure was a sharp contrast to China's success in sending a Chinese astronaut into orbit to circle the Earth 14 times in a 21-hour flight.
The failure also overshadowed Japan's space program and its ambitious satellite defense, observers said.
North Korea has denounced the deployment of the first two satellites as a "hostile act," which could trigger a renewed arms race.
The satellite project was intended as a response to North Korea's firing of a suspected Taepodong ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific in August 1998, a move that sent shockwaves around the region.
The launch came in a sensitive timing for Japan and North Korea as the two countries prepared to sit down at six-way talks to resolve the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
Some 400 police were around the launch site and coast guard ships were patrolling waters to thwart possible terrorist attacks or any attempt by North Korea to disrupt the launch, angry at what it sees as threatening re-militarization by Japan.
Long under the US security umbrella during the Cold War years, Japan was awakened to the need for self-reliance in defense following a series of North Korea's missile tests.