TOKYO — Japan successfully launched its latest Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) radar satellite Dec. 12 on an H-2A rocket at 10:21 a.m. local time from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan.

The satellite, which carries radar for all-weather and nighttime observation, successfully separated from the H-2A as planned about 20 minutes after liftoff, and is so far functioning normally, an official at the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which is in charge of the IGS program, told Space News.

Japan started the IGS program in response to North Korea’s 1998 test firing of a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile that flew over Japanese territory. The first IGS satellite launched in 2003.

The IGS system is designed to function as a constellation of four low Earth orbiting satellites consisting of two satellites with optical sensors and two with radar to monitor North Korea and East Asia.

Several IGS radar satellites have failed prematurely, reducing the IGS fleet to three operational optical satellites. A fourth optical satellite, launched in September 2010, has yet to enter service. “There is nothing wrong with the optical satellite, it is just finishing its on-orbit checkout,” the official said. If all goes well, the radar satellite will come into operation in two to three months, the official said.

The official also said that another radar satellite launch is planned for sometime during Japan’s 2012 budget year, which begins in April.

The Dec. 12 launch was the 14th consecutive successful flight for the H-2A since a November 2003 failure destroyed two IGS satellites.

The next H-2A mission is scheduled for March, when it will launch South Korea’s multipurpose Arirang 3 satellite, the rocket’s first and only commercial contract to date.


A graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where he won the Horgan Prize for Excellence in Science Writing, Paul Kallender-Umezu is co-author of “In Defense of Japan: From the Market to the Military in Space Policy” (Stanford University...