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Japan launches satellite at last

Japan launches a rocket carrying an advanced land-observation satellite into space.
Japanese H-2A rocket carrying a satellite blasts off on the southern island of Tanegashima
The Japanese-made H-2A rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, blasts off from Tanegashima Space Center on Tuesday.Kyodo / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Japan launched a rocket carrying an advanced land-observation satellite into space on Tuesday, giving a boost to a space program that has strived to overcome a spotty record.

A Japanese-built H-2A rocket was launched successfully from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima in southern Japan, said a spokeswoman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.

“We’ve confirmed that the satellite has detached itself from the rocket. It’s going well so far,” the JAXA spokeswoman said. JAXA said the satellite entered its proper orbit.

The satellite — which is called “Daichi,” a word that means the earth or ground in Japanese — is designed to gather detailed topographical data. Possible uses include helping to monitor disaster-hit areas or searching for natural resources.

The launch, which was originally scheduled for last Thursday but had been postponed due to weather and mechanical problems, was the first for the agency’s flagship H-2A rocket in nearly a year.

The February 2005 launch of an H-2A rocket carrying a dual-purpose navigation and meteorological satellite had given a much-needed lift to JAXA, coming as it did 15 months after a previous launch attempt ended in failure.

Glitches with asteroid mission
Japan’s space program entered the limelight recently with a high-profile mission involving a space probe designed to bring back the first-ever rock samples from an asteroid.

Scientists at JAXA were initially jubilant after Hayabusa, whose name means “falcon” in Japanese, apparently succeeded in landing twice on an asteroid nearly 186 million miles (300 million kilometers) from Earth in November.

After examining data from the unmanned probe, however, JAXA later said it had probably failed to collect samples.

In another glitch, JAXA said in December that the probe’s return to earth would be delayed until June 2010, three years later than initially planned.

Japan’s space program came under fire in the 1990s after two unsuccessful launches by its previous rocket, the H-2.