Japan launched on 9 February an H-IIA rocket carrying a $272 million reconnaissance intelligence-gathering satellite from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) launch site at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture. The optical-imaging satellite, called Information Gathering Satellite Optical 7 (IGS Optical 7), joined seven other IGS satellites – two other optical and five radar-imaging ones – designed to enhance Japan’s reconnaissance capabilities amid what Tokyo has described as a “severe” security environment in the region.
IGS Optical 7 is part of the third generation of IGS Optical satellites, the third such satellite to be launched. It follows on from the Optical 5 and 6 satellites, launched in March 2015 and February 2018 respectively, and the prototype – IGS Optical 5V – which preceded them. IGS satellites are assembled by Mitsubishi Electric. Few details about the satellites have been made public, however the Optical component are believed to carry high-resolution imagers capable of producing pictures at resolutions of up to 40 centimetres (16 inches). The launch complex also includes a vehicle assembly building (VAB) about 500 metres (550 yards) to the northwest where rockets are integrated atop a mobile launch platform.
Information Gathering Satellite (Jōhō Shūshū Eisei) is a satellite in a Japanese military spy satellite program. It was started as a response to 1998 North Korean missile test over Japan. The satellite program’s main mission is to provide early warning of impending hostile launches in the region. This program is under the direct control of the cabinet. All of the Information Gathering Satellites were launched by an H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center. The first few satellites were launched in pairs, sharing a single rocket for their ride into orbit. The first pair, consisting of IGS Optical 1 and IGS Radar 1, were deployed in March 2003 during the fifth flight of the H-IIA.
Japan began development of IGS in the late 1990s, following North Korea’s attempted satellite launch in 1998. Although the North Korean launch failed to reach orbit, the rocket carrying it crossed Japan during its ascent, sparking fears that North Korean missiles would be able to target the islands. With IGS, Japan aimed to develop an independent reconnaissance capability to monitor future threats. The constellation can also be used for disaster monitoring and other civilian applications by the Japanese government.