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Japan H2 Heavy Lofts Disaster Monitoring Satellite

File photo of JAXA's H2-A's rocket on the launch pad.
by Miwa Suzuki
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 24, 2006
Japan on Tuesday launched the leading rocket in its space programme for the first time in nearly a year, putting into orbit one of the world's largest land observation satellites to monitor natural disasters.

The H-2A rocket, whose launch had been delayed several times since September due to technical problems and bad weather, lifted off from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 10:33 am (0133 GMT) and split 16 minutes later.

"We were able to launch the H-2A rocket on time and release the satellite as we planned. We are very happy about the success," Keiji Tachikawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), told reporters.

The domestically-produced rocket carries one of the largest land observation satellites, which can capture images night and day from regions hit by natural disasters.

The satellite can also be used to draft maps and survey natural resources, with the information to be shared with other Asian nations, the space agency said.

Japan spent 53.5 billion yen (470 million dollars) over a decade to develop the four-ton satellite.

Japan in February 2005 successfully launched a seventh H-2A rocket with a satellite to forecast weather. That was its first launch since a rocket carrying a spy satellite to monitor North Korea failed in November 2003.

"This launch was our first firm step forward toward regaining the world's confidence in our rocket technology. We have learned from our past mistakes," said Tsukasa Mito, JAXA executive director.

Pressure has mounted on the Japanese space program to show progress as China, a neighbor and growing competitor, presses ahead in space and established space countries take the lead in the lucrative satellite market.

The 2003 failure was all the more embarrassing as it came one month after China became the third country after the United States and the Soviet Union to launch a successful manned space flight.

While few would feel Japan needs to prove itself in technology, the world's second largest economy is looking for a share of the market in launching satellites.

"For us to to compete in the international marketplace, we still have to sharpen our system as a whole," said Mamoru Endo, JAXA rocket project manager.

"We only have had a limited number of launches and we are also seeing bugs in the system.

"We had to postpone this launch for some time. But by taking firm steps like these, which insurance firms would be watching in the commercial market, I think we can make a good transition into the private launch market," Endo said.

The space agency admitted a new setback last month when it said a Japanese spacecraft likely failed on its landmark mission to collect samples from an asteroid on its first attempt.

The Hayabusa spacecraft, which in November approached the asteroid 290 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, went out of control because of a gas burst caused by leaking fuel.

The six-meter (20-foot) unmanned spacecraft had been due to drop a capsule of asteroid dust in the Australian outback in June 2007.

But the agency has said it now expected the spacecraft back in June 2010 as it will be another three years before it is in an ideal position to embark on the long journey back to Earth.

Japan plans to launch another H-2A rocket in about a month, but officials suggested it would be later than the original launch schedule of February 15.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a heavyweight in Japanese industry, was the main builder of the H-2A rocket as part of a government privatization drive.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Russian Proton-M To Launch Arab Satellite From Baikonur March 1
Moscow, Russia (SPX) Jan 24, 2006
The Baikonur space center will see its first launch of 2006 on March 1, when a Russian Proton-M carrier rocket will take off with the Arab communications satellite ArabSat 4A, a spokesman for the Russian Federal Space Agency said Monday, reports RIA Novosti.

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