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Japan to scale back space program

Japan is planning a major scale-back of its troubled space program by focusing on smaller satellites and relying more on other countries for launches.

Space officials believe the current satellite program is too complex – and have linked its numerous failures to a combination of the long time needed to develop a satellite and an overly ambitious launch schedule – said the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, citing unidentified officials.

Larger satellite launches need about three years of planning and five years of engineering – but at least one launch had been scheduled per year, it said. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is thinking about abandoning that framework and concentrating on smaller-scale launches that need shorter development times, the Yomiuri said.

The agency has also proposed to a Science Ministry panel that Japan consider getting other countries to do more of its launches, the report said.

Japan in 1970 became the fourth country to put a satellite into Earth orbit, but its space program has since floundered. Its ambitions to enter the commercial satellite launching business suffered a blow last November with the failed liftoff of its primary launch vehicle, the H-2A rocket. The domestically developed rocket, carrying two Japanese spy satellites, veered off course and was destroyed in mid-air by mission controllers.

Another setback came in December, when officials aborted plans to put Japan’s first interplanetary probe into an orbit around Mars, and said it would instead be reprogrammed to study the sun.