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Japan launches new spy satellite

BBC | September 11 2006

Japan has launched a rocket carrying its third spy satellite, increasing its ability to monitor North Korea.

Japan's space agency, Jaxa, launched the H2-A rocket from the southern island of Tanegashima.

Japan has two spy satellites already in orbit. Two others were lost when a rocket failed in November 2003.

Japan began its intelligence-gathering satellite programme following North Korea's test launch of a long-range missile that flew over Japan in 1998.

This launch follows a series of missile tests by Pyongyang in July, which included a new weapon, the Taepodong-2, which is potentially capable of hitting parts of the United States.

'Not linked'

The rocket lifted off from Japan's space centre at 1335 local time (0435 GMT).

Shortly afterwards, the satellite separated successfully from the rocket, officials said.

The optical satellite will be able to distinguish objects such as cars on the ground, Kyodo news agency said.

"This plan is to ensure safety and defend ourselves from foreign countries," an official from the Cabinet Office's satellite intelligence office told the French news agency AFP.

"But it will also be used generally for grand-scale catastrophes and is not directly linked to the specific issue of North Korea and its missile launches," he added.

A radar satellite is scheduled for launch later this year.

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