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Japan aborts the launch of a 2nd pair of spy satellites

Japan aborted the launch of a second pair of spy satellites to monitor North Korea shortly after take-off on Saturday, said a project spokesman. “Shortly after the launch, we sent a destroy order to the rocket as we concluded that the mission could not fulfil the purpose,” said Shoko Yamamoto for the satellite launch project.

“We cannot tell further details, but at least we can say this mission ended in failure,” Yamamoto said. Television footage showed a Japanese H-2A rocket with the two spy satellites lifting off smoothly from a launch site on the southern island of Tanegashima about 1 000km southwest of Tokyo at 01:33. But the governmental Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Tanegashima Space Centre decided to destroy the rocket and the satellites due to “some troubles in the rocket,” said public broadcasting network NHK.

THE LAUNCH of the domestically designed and made H2-A rocket, the workhorse of Japan’s space program, had been delayed three times since Sept. 10 because of technical glitches. Tokyo sent its first two spy satellites in space in March, prompting protests from Pyongyang, which warned Tokyo of triggering a regional arms race. Prior to the aborted mission, the two-stage H2-A had marked five straight successful launches since its first launch in August 2002. Japan intended for it to be a cheaper and more reliable replacement for a previous version, the H-2. Though the H-2 launched flawlessly five times in a row, its sixth launch misfired and a seventh ended in a fireball. Saturday’s launch failure will likely complicate Japan’s commercial space ambitions. Analysts say Japan may need as many as six successful back-to-back launches before it wins insurance coverage for commercial missions. The H2-A has not yet carried any commercial payloads. Last December, it carried its first international payload, when it lifted off with an Australian research satellite.