Japan launched a new spy satellite Friday, the country’s space agency said, as the region grows increasingly uneasy over North Korea’s quickening missile and nuclear programmes.
The Radar 5 unit was carried into space on Japan’s mainstay H-IIA rocket from a launch site in the country’s southwest.
It is meant to replace an existing satellite that is approaching the end of its mission.
Japan began putting spy satellites into orbit in 2003 after North Korea fired a midrange ballistic missile over the Japanese mainland and into the Western Pacific in 1998.
The threat has steadily accelerated and just last week Pyongyang fired four ballistic missiles, with three landing in waters provocatively close to Japan.
Tokyo currently maintains three optical satellites for daytime surveillance and three radar satellites for nighttime monitoring. Two of those are backups.
The new satellite will succeed one of the three radar satellites that was launched in 2011.
The satellites are officially for “information gathering” — a euphemism for spying — but are also used to monitor damage in the wake of natural disasters.
North Korea recently fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan’s northwest coast, angering South Korea and Japan, days after it promised retaliation over U.S.-South Korea military drills it sees as preparation for war.
South Korea’s military said the missiles were unlikely to have been intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which can reach the United States. They flew on average 1,000 km (620 miles) and reached an altitude of 260 km (160 miles).
Some landed as close as 300 km (190 miles) from Japan’s northwest coast, Japan’s Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said in Tokyo.