Thursday, January 24, 2013

Japan launching spy satellite to monitor North Korea

Japan is to launch a new spy satellite on Sunday to strengthen its monitoring capabilities amid concern that North Korea may carry out more missile and nuclear tests.

A rocket carrying a radar-equipped satellite is scheduled to blast off from a space centre at Tanegashima in the southwest, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has announced.

The space agency said the satellite would be used for information-gathering, including data following Japan's 2011 quake and tsunami, but did not mention North Korea by name.

The launch, planned for Sunday between 1:00 and 3:00 pm (0400-0600 GMT) comes after Pyongyang rejected dialogue on its atomic programme following tightened UN sanctions for a banned rocket launch.

The North's foreign ministry responded angrily to the UN Security Council action, saying there would be "no dialogue to discuss denuclearisation" and hinting that a new atomic test could be planned.

Japan hopes the satellite launch will enable it to complete a system first devised in the early 1990s as a response to fears about North Korea.

From an altitude of several hundred kilometres, the satellite will be able to detect objects on the ground as small as a square metre, including at night and through cloud cover , thanks to its radar.

Tokyo has four operational satellites in space, of which just one is equipped with radar. It has used satellites for monitoring and information-gathering since the late 1990s.

Last year Pyongyang launched two long-range rockets. The first failed but the second in December flew over the southern Okinawa island chain, jangling nerves in Japan.

North Korea insists its December 12 rocket launch was a peaceful, scientific mission aimed at putting a satellite in space. The UN condemned it as a disguised ballistic missile test.

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