Successful Launch of IGS-Optical 8 Satellite Boosts Japan’s Surveillance Capabilities

Japan’s recent H-2A rocket launch deployed the IGS-Optical 8 satellite for military surveillance and civilian applications. The satellite will track North Korean military activities and monitor natural disasters. Japan prepares for the retirement of the H-2A with upcoming launches of IGS-Radar 8 and GOSAT-2. The H3 launch vehicle, successor to H-2, faces a second test after a previous failure in March 2023.

A H-2A rocket lifts off from Tanegashima space center Jan. 12 (UTC), 2024, carrying the IGS-Optical 8 satellite. Credit: MHI/via X
A H-2A rocket lifts off from Tanegashima space center Jan. 12 (UTC), 2024, carrying the IGS-Optical 8 satellite.
Credit: MHI/via X

Japan Boosts Surveillance Capabilities with Launch of IGS-Optical 8 Satellite

Tanegashima Space Center, Japan (January 12, 2024) — Japan has successfully launched its latest optical reconnaissance satellite, IGS-Optical 8, on Thursday night. The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-2A rocket, equipped with SRB-A3 solid boosters, lifted off from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan at 11:44 p.m. Eastern.

Satellite Separation Confirmed

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) confirmed the separation of the IGS-Optical 8 satellite from the launch vehicle approximately half an hour after liftoff. The satellite is set to enter a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of around 500 kilometers.

Dual Purpose: Monitoring North Korea and Natural Disasters

The IGS-Optical 8 satellite serves a dual purpose, primarily aimed at tracking North Korean military activities. Additionally, it will be utilized for civilian applications, including monitoring natural disasters. The Cabinet Satellite Information Center of Japan operates the IGS satellite series, addressing both national defense and civil remote sensing needs.

Strategic Significance

This launch marks Japan’s first in 2024 and the 48th overall launch of the H-2A rocket. The H-2A has played a crucial role in Japan’s space endeavors, with only two more launches scheduled before its retirement. The significance of this mission lies in enhancing Japan’s remote sensing capabilities, crucial for national security.

Upcoming Launches and Rocket Retirement

The final two launches of the H-2A rocket later this year will carry the IGS-Radar 8 and the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite-2 (GOSAT-2), respectively. Following these missions, the H-2A rocket will retire, making way for Japan’s new-generation H3 launch vehicle.

H3 Test Flight No. 2: Aiming for Success

Tanegashima Space Center, Japan (January 14, 2024) — Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) are gearing up for the second launch of the H3 launch vehicle, set to take place on January 14 at 7:22 p.m. Eastern.

Learning from Past Failures

The H3 launch vehicle faced setbacks in its first attempt in March 2023, resulting in the loss of the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3 (ALOS-3). The failure prompted a thorough investigation, leading to improvements for the upcoming launch. The second H3 test flight will carry a dummy payload, emphasizing safety and reliability.

Implications for Martian Moons eXploration Mission

The failure of the initial H3 launch has repercussions for JAXA’s Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission. Initially scheduled for launch in September this year, MMX will now wait until 2026, after the H3 has demonstrated its reliability. This mission aims to collect samples from the Martian moon Phobos and return them to Earth, with an expected arrival in 2031.

Future Plans: Reusable Launch Vehicle

JAXA is actively exploring plans for a new, large, and reusable launch vehicle as the core of its future space transportation initiatives. Considering the use of liquid methane as fuel, this endeavor represents a strategic move towards more sustainable and cost-effective space exploration.

Japan’s recent satellite launch contributes significantly to its surveillance capabilities, while the upcoming H3 test flight underscores the nation’s commitment to overcoming challenges and advancing its space exploration endeavors. The delay in the MMX mission highlights the importance placed on ensuring the reliability of launch vehicles for critical space missions. As Japan continues to evolve its space capabilities, the development of a reusable launch vehicle remains a forward-looking and strategic move.

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