Spaceflight Insider

Japan to launch IGS-Optical 6 reconnaissance satellite into space

A file photo of an H-IIA rocket rolling out from its integration hangar to the launch pad. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

A file photo of an H-IIA rocket rolling out from its integration hangar to the launch pad. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

Japan is set to launch its flagship H-IIA rocket with the country’s latest Intelligence Gather Satellite: IGS-Optical 6. Liftoff is currently scheduled to take place between 11:34 and 11:48 p.m. EST Feb. 25 (04:34 and 04:48 GMT Feb. 26), 2018.

The launch vehicle will thunder off from pad 1 at the Tanegashima Space Center’s Yoshinobu Launch Complex located just south of the Japanese archipelago. After igniting its core stage and two additional solid rocket boosters, the H-IIA will complete a short vertical ascent before heading south over the Pacific Ocean. The flight should last less than 20 minutes, concluding with the insertion of the IGS-Optical 6 spacecraft into a 310-mile (500-kilometer) Sun-synchronous orbit inclined 97.4 degrees from the equator. 

A file photo of an H-IIA rocket. Photo Credit: JAXA

A file photo of an H-IIA rocket. Photo Credit: JAXA

Originally scheduled for Feb. 25, the launch was delayed 24 hours due to adverse weather conditions. Ultimately, the countdown campaign will commence some 13.5 hours ahead of liftoff with the rocket being rolled out to the launch pad.

Propellant loading operations will start about six hours after rollout with final checks of the launch vehicle being performed once that is completed. The automated countdown sequence leading to the ignition of the rocket’s engines will begin 4.5 minutes before liftoff.

Built by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO), the satellite represents the third generation of optical imaging satellites for the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) program. Due to the military nature of the payload, very little is known about the spacecraft’s specifications. 

IGS-Optical 6 will be operated by Japan’s Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center. Besides serving the country’s defense needs, it will be also used for civil natural disaster monitoring purposes.

The IGS project was initiated as a response to a 1998 North Korean missile test, which saw a Taepodong-1 medium-range ballistic missile launched over Japan and showcased the rogue nation’s ability to potentially strike anywhere on the archipelago. The program’s main goal is to provide an early warning of impending hostile launches in the region.

In 2003, the first two satellites of the program were launched: IGS-Optical 1 and IGS-Radar 1. To date, 13 IGS satellites have been successfully orbited. One pair of spacecraft was lost in November 2003 due to an H-IIA launch failure. All of the satellites were launched by H-IIA rockets from the Tanegashima Space Center.

While the earliest satellites launched have since been retired, there are currently six operational spacecraft being utilized for the program. The most recent to be launched, IGS-Radar 5, was delivered into orbit on March 17, 2017.

Generally, IGS satellites are equipped with an optical reconnaissance payload or a Synthetic Aperture Radar for remote sensing. These instruments allow the satellite to obtain optical imagery and high-resolution radar data reconnaissance for military and intelligence services.

The 174-foot (53-meter) tall H-IIA is a two-stage booster operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). With a mass of about 285 metric tons, the “202” variant being employed for Monday’s flight is capable of launching up to 10 metric tons to low-Earth orbit and 4.1 metric tons to a geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket’s maiden flight took place in August 2001 and has flown 37 times with only one failure.

The IGS-Optical 6 launch will mark the third orbital mission for Japan in 2018 and the first flight of an H-IIA booster this year.



Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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