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Monday, September 11, 2006

Japan to launch spy satellite to watch North Korea

TOKYO (Reuters): Japan prepared to launch its third intelligence-gathering satellite on Monday, enhancing its ability to monitor neighbouring North Korea two months after Pyongyang shocked the region with a barrage of missile tests.

Japan's space agency, JAXA, will launch the optical satellite from the southern island of Tanegashima, adding to a pair of satellites that were fired into orbit in March 2003. Two other satellites were lost when a rocket failed in November that year.

A further radar satellite is set to be launched later this year, completing the set of four.

The optical satellite will be able to differentiate objects a metre (yard) or more in diameter, although this level of resolution is far outclassed by U.S. military satellites. A ban on defence use of space dating from the 1960s has hampered Japan's ability to develop high-tech hardware.

With two similar satellites in orbit, the Japanese government will be able to monitor any point on Earth once a day, an official at Japan's Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Centre said.

Japan planned its spy satellite programme following North Korea's 1998 launch of a ballistic missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean.

On July 5, Pyongyang launched another volley of missiles, sparking unease across the region.

North Korea reacted angrily to South Korea's July launch of the Arirang-2 surveillance satellite capable of monitoring military movements.
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