On Sunday, Japan successfully launched a spy satellite, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), its aerospace agency. The launch was originally scheduled for Thursday last week but was delayed due to a weather hazard. The satellite was launched on Sunday morning and will be the fifth Japanese intelligence and surveillance satellite in orbit. Japan currently orbits two optical satellites and two radar satellites. The satellite launched on Sunday will supplement the already operational radar satellites, according to a Defense News report citing a Japanese government official.
The launch, Japan’s first of 2015, took place at Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center using a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA carrier rocket. The spy satellite will be operated by Japan’s Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center. According to a report at NASA Spaceflight, the spy satellite will be operated as part of Japan’s Information Gathering Satellites (IGS) program, which consists of optical and radar imaging spacecraft. The Japanese government has not revealed details regarding the exact surveillance capabilities of the satellites involved in the country’s IGS program.
The primary security application of the satellite will be to trace the development of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The Japanese government launched the IGS program in the late 1990s after North Korea attempted a satellite launch itself. In August 1998, North Korea’s Kwangmyŏngsŏng-1 satellite flew over Japan shortly after its launch and forced the Japanese government to increase its intelligence and surveillance capabilities regarding North Korea’s ballistic missile program. Today, South Korea and the United States also maintain close tabs on North Korea’s activities. Under a recent agreement, the United States, Japan, and South Korea will share intelligence about North Korea’s military activities.
According to reports, Japan will likely launch another spy satellite as part of its IGS program later this year. The satellite launched on Sunday will supplement Japan’s existent radar satellites and provide redundancy in case one satellite fails or requires an upgrade in the future. This year’s second IGS satellite launch is scheduled for March and will carry an optical reconnaissance satellite to supplement the extant IGS optical satellites.