Japan yesterday launched two intelligence satellites into orbit amid growing concerns that North Korea is planning to test more rockets of its own and possibly conduct a nuclear test.
Officials say yesterday’s launch of the domestically produced HII-A rocket went smoothly and the satellites — an operational radar satellite and an experimental optical probe — appear to have reached orbit.
Japan began its intelligence satellite program after North Korea fired a long-range missile over Japan’s main island in 1998.
North Korea conducted a launch last month that it says carried a satellite into orbit, but has been condemned by the US and others as a cover for its development of missile technology.
The latest Japanese launch was in the planning stages long before the current increase in tensions with North Korea, but underscores Japan’s longstanding wariness of its neighbor’s abilities and intentions.
The radar satellite, which can provide intelligence through cloud cover and at night, is intended to augment a network of several probes that Japan already has in orbit.
The optical probe will be used to test future technology and improvements that would allow Japan to strengthen its surveillance capabilities.
Japan still relies on the US for much of its intelligence. Its optical satellites are believed to be about as good as commercial satellites, meaning they are able to detect objects of about 40cm in size from their orbits.
With the additional radar satellite, Japan hopes to be able to glean intelligence on any specified location once a day.
Along with developing its own network of spy satellites, Japan has cooperated with Washington in establishing an elaborate missile defense shield.
North Korea’s National Defense Commission declared last week that the country would carry out a nuclear test and launch more rockets in defiance of the UN Security Council’s announcement that it would punish Pyongyang for its long-range rocket test last month with more sanctions, calling it a violation of a ban on nuclear and missile activity.