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Japan radar spy satellite out of action

Tokyo, Japan, 28 March 2007: One of a set of four spy satellites Japan launched to keep an eye on neighboring North Korea is not functioning, a Japanese government spokesman said on Tuesday.

The malfunctioning radar satellite belong to one of the first pair of satellites launched in March 2003, an official at the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center said. It ceased to function on March 25 apparently due to power supply problems, meaning that it is unable to take images, the official said.

“The initial intended life of the satellite was five years, and it may be that it has reached that stage a year earlier than planned,” the official said. “We do not think it will be easy to repair.” Japan has no plans to launch a replacement radar satellite until 2011, he said.

Two other satellites, one optical and one radar, were finally launched last month to complete a set of four that enable Japan to monitor any point on earth once a day.

Japan’s spy satellite program was initiated after North Korea unnerved the region in 1998 by launching a ballistic missile that flew over Japan. Japan’s space scientists say the industry is hampered by strict adherence to a 1969 parliamentary resolution limiting the use of space to peaceful purposes, a regulation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to loosen.