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Keeping an eye on Kim Jong-un: Japanese IGS-Optical 5 satellite lifts off

IGS Optical satellite launches atop JAXA H IIA rocket from Tanegashima Japan JAXA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

H-IIA Launch Vehicle No.17 launches from Tanegashima Space Center Photo Credit: JAXA

On Thursday, March 26, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA ) successfully launched its fifth IGS optical satellite (IGS-Optical 5) atop a H-IIA F28 launch vehicle. The launch occurred at 9:21 p.m. EST on Wednesday (10:21 a.m. JST on Thursday) from the space agency’s Yoshinobu Launch Complex on Tanegashima Island. At the time of launch, Tanegashima Island saw clear, blue skies and no delays in the launch procedure.

Although no public information had been announced on the JAXA website, several videos from the launch site have been since shared online. Spaceflight Insider was unable to reach out to JAXA for additional information on Thursday’s launch.

The H-IIA rocket sits on the pad at Yoshinobu Launch Complex on Tanegashima Island. Photo Credit: JAXA

The H-IIA rocket sits on the pad at Yoshinobu Launch Complex on Tanegashima Island. Photo Credit: JAXA

After jettisoning its solid rocket boosters (the SRB-A variant on the H-IIA), the payload fairing was separated. This was then followed by the first and second stage separation a few minutes later. JAXA and the Japanese government will monitor the satellite as it joins the other six IGS satellites still in operation over Asia.

The purpose of the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) series is in response to North Korean missile tests over Japan in 1998, the BBC states. These satellites act as a defensive measure for the country to ensure an early warning for the country from any potential foreign attacks.

Major specifications of the H-IIA launch vehicle. Image Credit: JAXA

Major specifications of the H-IIA launch vehicle. Image Credit: JAXA

Masashi Nisihara, president of Japan’s National Defence Academy, spoke with BBC News Online and said: “The idea (of the satellites) has been on the table for some time, but the ’98 launch of North Korea’s Taepodong stimulated that decision.”

The first two of these IGS satellites, dubbed “IGS-Optical 1” and “IGS-Radar 1”, were launched together on March 28, 2003, out of the same spaceport. IGS-Optical 5 is technically number twelve in the ongoing series of defense satellites Japan has developed, omitting a November 2003 launch failure of the IGS 2A and IGS 2B payloads. The payloads launched in 2007 and earlier have since been retired, with new ones like IGS-Optical 5 being launched in order to take over their duties. Thus far, all of the IGS satellites have been launched from Tanegashima Space Center aboard the H-IIA launch vehicle variant.

Thursday’s launch was the twenty-eighth for the H-IIA rocket, which has been the workhorse of the Japanese aerospace industry since its debut in 2001. The “F28” in this particular launch designates the flight number of the launch vehicle.

The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries-built rocket is the more cost effective and reliable variant of the original H-II launch vehicle which flew between 1994 and 1998.

There are two more planned launches of the H-IIA hopefully to launch this year, including the Canadian Telstar 12 Vantage and the Japanese Astro-H satellites.

As of Thursday’s launch, no other spy satellites in this series have been announced for Japan thus far.

This particular spy satellite appears to have been launched with an emphasis on one nation in particular – North Korea. The frequent, public outbursts from the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, have made monitoring the tiny communist country’s activities a priority for its neighbors in the region.

Another mission currently on the Japanese launch manifest, JAXA’s Kounotori 5 HTV cargo vehicle, will be bound for the International Space Station. That flight is currently scheduled to take place on Aug. 17 and will be using the newer H-IIB launch vehicle variation.

Video courtesy of KSJPYMNISIR



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Britt Rawcliffe is a professional freelance aerospace and aviation photographer based out of Pennsylvania with over six years of professional photographic experience. Her creative imagery has spanned into all areas relating to space, including launches, photojournalism, architecture, and portraiture. Britt’s passion for history has been a common thread in much of her work, including having photographed many Moonwalkers such as Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan.

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