Japan announces plans to launch upgraded observation satellites on new flagship rocket’s 3rd flight

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s space agency announced Friday a plan to launch a major upgrade to its satellite imaging system, as a new flagship rocket is put to the test for a third time.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency that an H3 rocket will be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center, on a southwestern Japanese island, early afternoon on June 30, with a launch window that runs through the end of July.

The rocket will be carrying an Advanced Land Observation Satellite, ALOS-4, tasked primarily with Earth observation and data collection for disaster response and mapmaking, as well as with monitoring military activity, such as missile launches, with an infrared sensor developed by the Defense Ministry. The ALOS-4 is a successor to the current ALOS-2 and can observe a much wider area.

The launch will be the H3’s third, coming after a failed debut in March 2023 and a successful launch on Feb. 17. During the first attempt, the rocket’s second stage engine did not ignite and the rocket had to be destroyed along with its main payload, a satellite that was supposed to be the ALOS-3.

During H3 No. 2’s successful test flight, it carried two commercially-developed observation microsatellites and an ALOS mockup.

JAXA and its main contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have been developing H3 as a successor to its current mainstay, H-2A, which is set to retire after two more flights. MHI will eventually take over H3 production and launches from JAXA and hopes to make it commercially viable.

Japan sees a stable, commercially competitive space transport capability as key to the country’s space program and national security.

The 57-meter (187-foot) long H3 rocket is designed to carry larger payloads than the H-2A at about half its launch cost.

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