TANEGASHIMA, Japan March 27 —
Japan rocketed two spy satellites into space from this remote
island Friday, giving it orbiting eyes to monitor North Korea's
missile and suspected nuclear weapons programs.
North Korea has called the launch as a "hostile act," warning it
might test-fire a missile in response.
The satellites, the first of at least four in the $2.05 billion
spy program, were launched into clear but windy skies atop an H2-A
rocket, the centerpiece launch vehicle of Japan's space program.
"The rocket has successfully lifted off," flight controllers
announced minutes afterward. "It is flying smoothly and is on
The satellites will allow Japan to monitor neighboring North
Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons and to provide
advance warning of long-range missile tests. But officials maintain
they're not intended as a provocation and will be used for other
missions, such as monitoring natural disasters.
But they admit the program was prompted by the 1998 "Taepodong
shock," when a North Korean Taepodong ballistic missile flew over
Japan's main island before crashing into the Pacific off Alaska in
North Korea, however, has protested that the spy program as a
"grave threat" that violates the spirit of a bilateral agreement
reached six months ago that included a moratorium on long-range
missile launches. There was no immediate reaction early Friday from
The launch from the Tanegashima Space Center, a sprawling complex
of launch pads on this rugged island about 700 miles southwest of
Tokyo, marked a milestone for Japan's space program, which had
previously been limited to strictly nonmilitary, peaceful
The two satellites, which have both conventional photographic and
radar imaging capabilities, are expected to be in use for about five
years. If all goes well, they will orbit 250-370 miles over earth
and be able to supply images regardless of weather conditions
The date for the subsequent launches has not been announced.
The paucity of clear data on what Japan's enigmatic communist
neighbor is doing is one reason why Tokyo wants its own eyes in
Japan now gets its intelligence primarily from the United States,
which, along with spy satellites of its own, conducts frequent
surveillance flights out of an air base on the southern Japan island
But heightening tensions over the North's suspected development
of nuclear weapons and its increasingly hostile stance toward
Washington have caused deep concern in this country virtually all of
which is within range of its Taepodong missiles.
To discourage any brinkmanship, the United States, which has
roughly 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, has deployed one of its
aircraft carriers off the Korean Peninsula and bombers to the
Pacific island of Guam.
Tokyo also sent an Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Japan Sea,
which lies between Japan and North Korea.
But with Washington's attention focused on its war on Iraq,
Pyongyang has shown little interest in easing regional fears.
A North Korean government spokesman, quoted in the North's
official media last week, hinted that if Tokyo went ahead with the
launch Pyongyang might test-fire a long-range missile of its
U.S. and Japanese officials say the North could be preparing such
a test, but add there is no conclusive evidence a test is
North Korea recently launched a short-range missile on the eve of
the inauguration of South Korea's president and significantly
escalated tensions by sending its fighters to intercept one of the
Japan-based American spy flights while it was in international
No shots were fired, and the plane returned safely to Okinawa.
Washington strongly protested the incident, but has since resumed
|Japan's H-2A rocket lifts off
from a launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center in
Tanegashima, southwestern Japan Friday, March 28, 2003.
Friday's launch of Japan's first spy satellites marked the
start of a multi-billion dollar surveillance program prompted
by tensions over neighboring North Korea's long-range missiles
and suspected development of nuclear weapons. (AP
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This
material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or