Japan on 17 March 2017 launched a new satellite to track land and maritime movements in North Korea. The satellite will also be able to conduct surveys on the weapons programme of the secretive nuclear-armed state. The launch project was conducted jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the aerospace manufacturer.
The move comes shortly after North Korea launched four banned ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan’s north-west coast, alarming both Japan and the United States. The Radar 5 unit was launched into space on Japan’s H-2A rocket from Tanegashima base, a site located towards the south-east of Japan. The launch was initially scheduled for 15 March but it got delayed due to poor weather conditions at the base. The satellite will be replacing an existing satellite, which is coming to the end of its mission.
Japan initiated the process of launching spy satellites into the orbit in 2003, following North Korea’s testing of a mid-range ballistic missile over the Japanese mainland and into the western Pacific in 1998. The threat of unprecedented missile firing by North Korea has only accelerated after that, especially recently after three of the four ballistic missiles launched by N Korea landed extremely close to Japan.
Currently, Tokyo has three optical satellites for daytime surveillance and three radar satellites for night time. Two among those are kept as backups. The newly launched satellite is meant to succeed one of the three night-time surveillance radar satellites, which was launched in 2011. Though the real objective of the satellites is to gather information regarding N Korea’s military maritime movements, they are also used to survey and monitor the damage caused by natural disasters.