Space: November 30, 2003


Japan's space program is in big trouble. Their H2-A satellite launcher is too expensive and too unreliable to attract commercial business. On November 29th, an H2-A failed when one of it's two rocket boosters malfunctioned. This made it impossible for the launcher to get high enough to put the two spy satellites carried into a useful orbit. So the launcher was destroyed. The H2-A was meant to be a more reliable, and cheaper, version of the earlier H2 launcher. That rocket launched successfully five times in a row, then misfired on it's sixth launch and blew up on its seventh. Insurance companies were scared off and no commercial business was possible. The H2-A has had five successful launches since its first use in August of 2002. But you need at least six, or more, flawless launches in a row before commercial business will start coming your way. In the commercial launch business, track record is everything. Moreover, the Japanese launchers cost more than twice as much as those from competitors like China and Russia. But the H2-A still has some business from the Japanese government. There are plans to put eight spy satellites in orbit between now and 2008. Two spy satellites were put in orbit earlier this year, as part of the two billion dollar project. Japan decided to set up a system of spy satellites after North Korea tested a long range missile by firing it over Japan in 1998. The Japanese spy satellites will mainly serve to keep an eye on North Korean weapons programs.




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