January 28, 2013
Japan Launches Spy Satellites To Keep Tabs On North Korea
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Japan launched two satellites into orbit on Sunday, capable of spying and offering sharp images for its government defense and intelligence agencies.
Officials say the launch of the satellites, which included an operational radar satellite and experimental optical probe, went smoothly.
The two intelligence satellites now in orbit could potentially help to keep an eye on North Korea as it tests rockets, and sets itself on a course to possibly conduct nuclear tests.
Japan began its intelligence satellite program after North Korea fired a long-range missile over Japan's main island in 1998. Also, last month, North Korea conducted a launch it claims involved carrying a satellite into orbit.
The radar satellite launched by Japan is capable of providing intelligence through cloud cover and at night, and can work on a network of several probes that Japan already has in orbit.
The optical probe that was launched will be used to test out future technology and improvements that would allow the country to strengthen its surveillance capabilities.
Japan's optical satellites are believed to be about as good as commercial satellites, allowing them to detect objects of about 16-inches in size from their orbits. Adding the latest satellites to its repertoire will allow Japan to have an even greater edge to keep its sights set on North Korea.
North Korea's missiles are within range of Japan, and the communist country said last week that it would be carrying out a nuclear test and launching more rockets in defiance of the U.N. Security Council's announcement that it would punish Pyongyang for its long-range rocket test in December.
North Korea's state news agency said on Sunday that leader Kim Jong Un said during a meeting with top security and foreign officials to take "substantial and high-profile important state measures."
Since World War II, Japan has relied on U.S. troops as its military, currently hosting about 50,000 U.S. troops. The country relies heavily on the U.S. for much of its intelligence as well.
The additional radar satellite could help Japan to gain intelligence on any specified location once a day.
Japan is planning to launch its fourth robotic cargo craft in July to the International Space Station, aboard the heavy-lift H-2B rocket. The country is also planning to launch the first flight of its smaller solid-fueled Epsilon satellite launcher from the Uchinoura Space Center on the south shore of Kyushu in the fall.
Japan's space agency said it will be launching a second Advanced Land Observing Satellite before the end of 2013, which will help collect environmental data for climate science and disaster response applications.