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Japan spy satellite launch fails

The H-2A rocket is the workhorse of Japan's space program.
The H-2A rocket is the workhorse of Japan's space program.

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TOKYO, Japan -- A Japanese rocket carrying two satellites to spy on North Korea has been destroyed by mission controllers just minutes after lift-off.

The H2-A rocket and its secret cargo was blown up mid-flight Saturday after officials concluded that the mission was beyond recovery, Shoko Yamamoto, spokeswoman for the Japan Aerosopace Exploration Center, said.

"We are still investigating the cause," Reuters quoted her as saying.

"There was no chance of the mission being recovered, so ground control issued an order to destroy the rocket."

The rocket blasted off at 1:33pm local time (0433GMT) and was destroyed 13 minutes later, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported.

The mission was surrounded with tight secrecy and no other details were made available.

No live video was provided from the launch site on the island of Tanegashima, some 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Tokyo.

The two satellites on board the rocket were designed to boost Japan's monitoring and intelligence gathering efforts regarding North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

One of the satellites carried optical sensors, the other was to be used for radar monitoring.

A similar pair of satellites were launched in March.

Missile test

The monitoring program was prompted by North Korea's 1998 test-firing of a Taepodong ballistic missile, which over flew Japan before landing in the Pacific.

The launch of the satellites had originally been scheduled for September 10, but was delayed three times due to unspecified technical glitches.

The launch failure will be a big setback for Japan's space industry which has plans to use the H2-A as a platform to bring the country into the commercial satellite launch business.

The decision to abort the launch will be all the more embarrassing coming just weeks after neighboring China successfully put its first astronaut into orbit.

Japan is a big investor in space and is the second largest financial backer of the International Space Station after the United States.

However, its domestic space program has been plagued by cost overruns, rocket failures and a shortage of customers for its satellite launches.


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