updated 8/25/2005 4:58:26 PM ET 2005-08-25T20:58:26

Japan has postponed the launch of a third spy satellite intended to keep an eye on communist North Korea for at least six months due to a technical glitch, a report said Thursday.

Japan launched two spy satellites in March 2003 amid concerns about the security threat posed by North Korea, which claims to have nuclear weapons.

The third was set to be launched this fiscal year, which ends in March 2006, but a government committee postponed it because of a computer chip problem. At least six months are needed to replace the chips and test new ones, Kyodo News agency said. Officials were unavailable to confirm the report late Thursday.

A fourth satellite is still scheduled for launch in the fiscal year starting April 2006, Kyodo said.

Japan embarked on a spy satellite program following North Korea's surprise test launch of a long-range missile over Japan's main island in 1998. The government's original plan was to put a total of eight spy satellites into orbit through 2006 to keep watch on North Korea.

In November 2003, a rocket carrying two spy satellites malfunctioned and was destroyed in mid-flight.

Officials say the satellites are not meant to provoke the North and would also be used for other purposes such as monitoring natural disasters and weather patterns.

Critics say sending spy satellites into space goes against a long-standing Japanese policy of conducting only nonmilitary space missions.

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