Open Source Insights
Origins and Current State of Japan’s Reconnaissance Satellite Program (U)
William W. Radcliffe
On 28 November 2009, Tokyo successfully launched its fifth indigenously produced joho shushu eisei or “intelligence-gathering satellite.” According to Japanese media, this second-generation satellite can identify objects as small as 60 cm, a marked improvement over Japan’s first generation electro-optical satellites that were only able to identify objects as small as 1 m. The November 2009 launch marked the continuation of Japan’s reconnaissance satellite program, which put its first satellites into orbit in early 2003. Two more satellites were successfully launched individually in late 2006 and in early 2007—a pair of satellites had been lost in a catastrophic launch failure in late 2003, and one of the original pair launched in 2003 reportedly ceased functioning in March 2007. The satellite orbitted last year was to complete a three-month testing period before replacing the first electro-optical satellite launched in 2003, which was designed to have a five-year lifespan.1
It is commonly held that North Korea’s August 1998 Taepo Dong missile launch over the Japanese archipelago spurred Tokyo to undertake a crash program to build and launch its own reconnaissance satellites. A survey of the open source record of events prior to the summer of 1998, however, shows that Japanese political leaders were in the final stages of reviewing plans for a reconnaissance satellite program using technology under development since the 1980s.
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