Japan launches first commercial satellite

Japan has completed its first successful launch of a foreign-made satellite, fulfilling a decades-long quest to break into the European and Russian-dominated commercial launch business.

The H-2A rocket blasted off from the space centre on Japan’s southern island of Tanegashima on schedule at 1:39 am local time on Friday, according to the BBC.

The South Korean KOMPSAT-3 satellite, a multipurpose observation satellite, separated from the rocket 16 minutes after the launch, followed by three Japanese satellites.

It was the 21st launch since 2001 of the H-2A rocket, which was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has operated the rocket since 2007, and is looking to secure more contract launches and gain a foothold in the world’s lucrative $4.3 billion commercial launch market, according to the Agence France Presse.

The South Korean satellite was developed by the country’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute, and will carry out earth observations, officials said. JAXA’s Shizuku satellite, which was also put into space, will monitor global ocean currents, while the other two Japanese satellites are small experimental models.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Japan faces stiff competition from long-time purveyors like France’s Arianespace and Russia’s Proton, as well as from newer rivals like India’s government space program and the SpaceX in the US, both of whom offer launches for much lower prices.

Japan faces challenges in terms of both price and capacity. While MHI has cut costs significantly, the yen’s rise to record highs against the dollar in 2011 has more than offset those gains.

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