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Japan reschedules spy satellite launch

Japan will send into orbit two satellites on November 29 to monitor North Korea military facilities, some two months after a rocket glitch postponed their launch, government officials said Thursday. They will join another pair which were launched in March in a 250 billion yen (2.3 billion dollar) government project to put four spy satellites into full operation this year, the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Centre said.

The launch of the second pair, originally set for September 10, was delayed by prolonged preparations and replacement of parts. It was further pushed back after trouble occurred in the H-2A rocket hours before its lift-off on September 27. North Korea denounced the deployment of the first two satellites as a “hostile act” which could trigger a renewed arms race. The satellite project is intended as a response to North Korea’s firing of a suspected Taepodong ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific in August 1998, a move which sent shockwaves around the region.

One satellite is equipped with optical sensors and the other with all-weather radar-imaging capabilities. The first two satellites pass over North Korea twice a day, in the morning and at night. The two new satellites will enable Japan to photograph North Korea during the afternoon. The satellites can identify objects as small as one metre (yard) long, matching the technology of current commercial imaging satellites, and researchers expect it will be able to distinguish camouflaged vehicles and facilities.