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Japan to Launch Rocket Wednesday - 2001-08-27


Japan plans to launch an H2A rocket Wednesday, in what is viewed as a last ditch effort to fulfill Tokyo's hopes of having a successful space program. Several previous launches over the last three years ended in failure.

The rocket is an improved version of the National Space Development Agency's H2 rocket, which Japan launched unsuccessfully at great financial cost in both 1998 and 1999.

Tens of millions of dollars spent on the H2A, as well as the earlier failures, have placed tremendous pressure on Wednesday's planned launch.

Shinji Nio, a spokesman for Japan's space agency, admits that the survival of the country's space industry depends upon it. He says that the agency has had three consecutive failures, and he knows the Japanese people are anxious about this rocket launch. He admits that he and his colleagues feel they must get it right.

A mechanical glitch already postponed a previously scheduled launch for the rocket, from a tiny Pacific island near Kyushu Island in Southern Japan.

Mr. Nio says officials are doing all they can to ensure a smooth take-off on Wednesday. He says the team has been reviewing the problems that caused the delay, and they are optimistic.

But the Japanese space agency is so concerned about failure that it is sending the rocket up with a dummy weight, instead of a real satellite.

The aim of Japan's space program is to compete with similar programs in the United States and Europe. It wants to be able to launch its own satellites for commercial purposes, and potentially, experts say, for intelligence gathering. Tokyo also hopes to become a player in the highly lucrative commercial satellite launch business.

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