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Japan Investigating Failed Spy Satellite Launch - 2003-11-29

Officials in Japan are investigating what went wrong in the failed launch of two spy satellites on Saturday. The aborted launch is a blow to the prestige of Japan's space program and its intelligence efforts.

The rocket lifted off smoothly Saturday from the southern island of Tanegashima, about 1,000 kilometers from Tokyo.

Minutes later, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency officials ordered the rocket destroyed. The agency says it believes that one of the two rocket boosters failed to separate from the fuselage in the second phase of the flight.

The Japanese designed and produced H2-A rocket was carrying two sophisticated spy satellites meant to work with another pair already in orbit. Together, the four satellites would have allowed Japan to monitor any point on the globe. The minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Takeo Kawamura, whose ministry oversees the space program, says the failed launch is a blow to Japan's space program and its intelligence-gathering efforts.

Mr. Kawamura says the lack of the satellites is a serious concern and is a problem for national security. He says there will be a full investigation.

The $2.3 billion, four-satellite plan is Japan's first independent way of scrutinizing from space North Korea, which has admitted to a nuclear weapons program.

Japan decided it needed the surveillance after North Korea test-fired a Taepodong ballistic missile in 1998. The missile passed over a shocked Japan and showed that its big cities, including Tokyo, were within reach of the missile's 1,000 kilometer range.

Saturday's failed launch is also a blow to Japan's space program, which has suffered serious setbacks in recent years. Two rockets failed in 1999 and 2000, and two satellite launches failed in 1994 and 1996.

Before the rocket was destroyed on Saturday, its launch had been postponed three times since September due to technical problems.