Japan postpones spy satellite launch again
TOKYO (AP) - Japan's space agency on Saturday postponed for the third time the scheduled launch of its second pair of spy satellites due to technical problems found at the last minute.
The satellites were to be launched aboard the domestically developed H-2A rocket Saturday afternoon from the southern Japan island of Tanegashima.
National Space Development Agency official Yoshihiro Nakamura said preparations Saturday had been going smoothly but a mechanical problem in the rocket was found during the final check.
"There is no launch at least for the rest of the day,'' he said, adding that the new launch schedule depends on the extent of the problem.
Nakamura said no other details were immediately available.
Japan's public broadcaster NHK said the launch is rescheduled for Sunday or later.
The launch, originally scheduled for Sept. 10, had already been postponed twice before due to technical problems.
Japan successfully launched its first spy satellites on March 28 as part of a US$2 billion plan to monitor North Korea's missile and nuclear programs.
The launch triggered an angry warning from the communist nation, which accused Japan of escalating a regional arms race.
Critics in Japan have said the program violates a long-standing policy of keeping the country's space program out of military missions.
But officials say the spy satellites do not violate that policy because they pose no threat to foreign countries and will also be used to monitor natural disasters and weather patterns.
Along with lifting the satellites into orbit, the launch will be an important test of the H-2A, which is the workhorse of Japan's space program.
Although the two-stage, 53-meter (170-foot) tall H-2A has been launched successfully five times, officials worry it is too expensive to compete with its European, Russian and American rivals in the commercial market.
Earlier this month, Japan announced plans to launch within the next decade a new, domestically developed rocket that will cost half as much as the H2-A, carry heavier payloads and "surpass the U.S. Space Shuttle in terms of reliability.' - AP