August 25, 2005

Japan Postpones Launch of Spy Satellite

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan has decided to postpone the launch of a third spy satellite from the current fiscal year to fiscal 2006 due to technical difficulties, a media report said Thursday.

Japan launched two spy satellites in March 2003 amid concerns about the security threat posed by North Korea, which claims to have nuclear weapons.

A government committee decided Thursday to postpone the launch of a third because of a problem with computer chips currently in use and at least six months are needed to replace them and test new ones, Kyodo News agency said. Officials were unavailable to confirm the report late Thursday.

A fourth satellite is still scheduled for launch in the fiscal year starting April 2006, Kyodo said.

Tokyo's spy satellite program was prompted by North Korea's surprise test launch of a long-range missile over Japan's main island in 1998. The government's original plan was to put a total of eight spy satellites into orbit through 2006 to keep watch on the communist country.

In November 2003, a rocket carrying two spy satellites malfunctioned and was destroyed in flight.

Officials say the satellites are not meant as a provocation and would also be used for other missions such as monitoring natural disasters and weather patterns.

Critics say sending up spy satellites goes against a long-standing policy of conducting only non-military space missions.