Tanegashima, Kagoshima Pref., Feb. 9 (Jiji Press)–Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. <7011> successfully launched an intelligence-gathering optical satellite of the government on an H-2A rocket on Sunday.
The H-2A Launch Vehicle No. 41 blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima at 10:34 a.m. (1:34 a.m. GMT). The satellite subsequently entered the planned orbit.
It was the 35th consecutive successful launch of an H-2A rocket, raising the launch success rate to 97.6 pct.
Mitsubishi Heavy initially planned to launch the rocket on Nov. 28 but postponed it due to the discovery of leaks from the ground piping to supply nitrogen gas for air conditioning in the rocket.
Operated by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, the satellite is the latest in a series of de facto spy satellites introduced after North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile over the Japanese archipelago in 1998.
In a statement, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government will make the utmost use of the optical satellite to take every possible measure to ensure the security and crisis management of the country.
In 2013, Japan established a four-satellite structure consisting of two optical sensor satellites that can take pictures under fine weather conditions and two radar satellites that are capable of conducting observations under bad weather conditions and at night. Japan has since been able to take a picture of anywhere on Earth once a day.
The latest optical satellite is the successor to one launched in March 2015. Japan now operates eight satellites including old models that have passed their design life span.
At a news conference after the launch, Tadashi Miyagawa, chief of the government center, said data gathered by intelligence-gathering satellites are used in responding to large-scale natural disasters. He noted that more than 100 images were published on a related web site when powerful Typhoon Hagibis lashed Japan last year.