February 18, 2006

Japan Successfully Places Satellite into Orbit

TOKYO - Japan successfully launched a rocket carrying a satellite on Saturday, the second time it has done so in less than a month and a much-needed boost for its space program after a string of mishaps.

The H-2A rocket lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Kagoshima prefecture and is carrying a 4.7-tonne satellite, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.

The satellite will be used for controlling air traffic as well as gathering meteorological data.

A JAXA spokesman described the launch as success, adding the rocket had placed the satellite into the right orbit.

After a lapse of nearly a year, the H-2A successfully put a land-observation satellite into orbit in January.

Both launches will likely bolster Japan's plans to enter the commercial satellite business and lift confidence among the country's space community, after two unsuccessful launches of the H-2, the H-2A's predecessor, in the 1990s.

More recently, Japan's space program appeared to have made history when JAXA announced in November that an unmanned probe successfully collected rock samples from an asteroid nearly 300 million km (186 million miles) from Earth.

But jubilation soon turned to disappointment as data sent from the probe showed that it had probably failed to collect samples.

Adding insult to injury, the agency said in December that the probe would not return to earth until June 2010, three years later than initially planned.