Tuesday, June 12, 2018

H-IIA Takes to the Skies with Japan’s IGS-Radar 6 Spy Satellite

IGS-Radar 6 launch on June 12, 2018.

An H-IIA booster took to the skies on Wednesday, June 12, on a classified mission to deliver the IGS-Radar 6 reconnaissance satellite for Japan’s Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Centre. The rocket blasted off at 4:20 GMT (0:20 a.m. EDT) from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center.

The launch was scheduled for June 11, however poor weather forecast forced the officials to delay the liftoff by 24 hours. There were fears that the Tropical Storm Maliksi passing over Pacific Ocean, some 200 miles east of the coast of Japan, could have impact on launch activities.

The timeline of Tuesday’s flight is classified. However, the nominal flight plan of H-IIA suggests that the rocket completed a brief vertical ascent after which it started heading south over the Pacific Ocean. Its two SRB-A boosters accompanied the launch vehicle until they burned out within two minutes into the flight.

The whole flight, counting from liftoff to the separation of the payload, apparently lasted some 20-30 minutes as the satellite was planned to be injected reportedly into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). IGS-Radar spacecraft usually operate from SSO at an altitude of approximately 310 miles (500-kilometers), inclined 97.4 degrees.

Japan has also not disclosed any information about the physical parameters of the IGS-Radar 6 spacecraft as well as about its equipment. What is known is that the satellite was manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO) and belongs to the third generation of optical imaging satellites for the Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) program. In general, IGS satellites are equipped with an optical reconnaissance payload or a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) for remote sensing.

IGS-Radar 6 is planned to be operated by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center for five years. Besides serving the country’s defense needs, it will also be used for civil natural disaster monitoring purposes.

IGS program was created as a response to a 1998 North Korean missile test, which saw a Taepodong-1 medium-range ballistic missile launched over Japan and showcased the rogue nation’s ability to potentially strike anywhere on the archipelago. Main goal of the project is to provide an early warning of impending hostile launches in the region.

In 2003, the first two spacecraft of the program were launched: IGS-Optical 1 and IGS-Radar 1. To date, 14 IGS satellites have been successfully orbited. One pair was lost in November 2003 due to an H-IIA launch failure. All were launched by H-IIA rockets from the Tanegashima Space Center.

Previous IGS satellite - IGS-Optical 6 – was launched on February 27, 2018, also atop an H-IIA booster from Tanegashima.

H-IIA is a 174-foot (53-meter) tall two-stage booster operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). With a mass of about 285 metric tons, the “202” variant being employed for Tuesday’s flight is capable of launching up to 10 metric tons to low-Earth orbit and 4.1 metric tons to a geostationary transfer orbit. The rocket’s maiden flight took place in August 2001. Since then, it has flown 37 times with only one failure.

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