JAXA Dual-Satellite Launch Brings Japan into Commercial Service Realm

[Satellite News 05-18-12] Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have successfully debuted its commercial launch service for a foreign customer, sending Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Arirang-3 satellite and Japan’s Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) spacecraft into orbit onboard a JAXA H-2A rocket, JAXA confirmed May 18.
            JAXA announced the first payload had successfully separated with the rocket approximately 16 minutes after its launch from the Tanegashima Space Center. Shortly after, the Korean Aerospace Research Institute confirmed that Arirang-3 was functioning normally.
Japan hopes the successful mission will bring the nation into the same market as international commercial service providers Arianespace in Europe and International Launch Services (ILS) in Russia.
            “We’re very happy with the launch of a South Korean satellite as Japan’s first commercial payload,” Japanese Minister for Space Development Motohisa Furukawa said in a statement. “Since 2007, Japan has launched as many as three H-2A rockets a year under the program run by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and we support securing more opportunities for our satellite-launch service.”
            Besides bringing in tens of millions of dollars to the Japanese space sector and outbidding foreign launch competitors, JAXA touted several other new international space program partnerships that were created by the mission. Arirang-3 carries a high-resolution optical imager purchased from European satellite manufacturer Astrium. The imager can capture objects on the ground less than one meter in length.
            South Korean KAIST Satellite Technology Research Center Analyst Kang Kyung-in said that the Arirang-3 launch was important for his nation’s science community as the satellite will be able to monitor nearly any spot on Earth.
            “The remote sensing satellite is neither intended to exclusively monitor any particular country (namely North Korea), nor is it exclusively for government use,” Kyung-in said in a research note. “We expect that some of the data may also be utilized by businesses amid an increasing demand for such high-resolution images.”
            Prior to the Arirang-3 launch, South Korea has had to rely on lower-resolution satellites or images delivered by the United States and other allied countries. Kang acknowledged the attention that would be given to the timing of the joint Japanese-South Korean event, which came one month after North Korea failed its third attempt to place a supposed Earth observation satellite into orbit.
            “North Korea’s technology is at least 20 years behind South Korea’s space technology,” said Kang. “The primary mission of the April 13 North Korean launch attempt was probably not to deploy a peaceful satellite as declared, but rather to test its rocket technology which could be utilized to launch multi-stage missiles.”
Kang also commented on the significance of the successful launch for Japan’s budding commercial launch service. “This is a major accomplishment for Japan. The nation thus achieves its long-time goal of joining the elite and highly lucrative, but risky, commercial space launch business.”
            Japan’s new scientific AMSR2 spacecraft was designed to measure water temperature from the sea surface with an accuracy of 0.5 degrees Celsius. Japanese scientists nicknamed the satellite “Shizuku,” and said it would play a critical role in monitoring global water circulation and climate change.

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