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Information Gathering Satellites - Operations

IGS-1 Optical-1 dual2003483 km 495 km 97.4° 850 kg
IGS-2 Optical dual2003failedfailedfailed
IGS-3 Optical-2 single2006486 km 489 km 97.34°4,000 kg ?
IGS-4 Optical-3V dual2007475 km 500 km 97.32°
IGS-5 Optical-3 single2009586 km 588 km 97.81°4,000 kg ?
IGS-7 Optical-4 single2011588 km 591 km 97.69 °4,000 kg ?
IGS-8B Optical-5V dual2013512 km 523 km 97.50°
IGS-9 Optical-5 2015483 km495 km 97.4°
IGS- Optical-6 2017 km km °
V = prototype
IGS-1 Radar-1 dual2003489 km500 km 97.4° 1,200 kg
IGS-2 Radar dual2003failedfailedfailed
IGS-4 Radar-2 dual2007484 km 491 km 97.33°
IGS-6 Radar-3 single2011512 km 514 km 97.46°4,000 kg ?
IGS-8A Radar-4 dual2013509 km 514 km 97.50°
IGS-10 Radar-5 single2017512 km 514 km 97.46°4,000 kg ?

The Information Gathering Satellites are built by Mitsubishi Electric (MELCO), operated by the Cabinet Satellite Information Center - that is to say, these are "non-military" satellits to gather "information" rather than military intelligence satellites. This program presents a few puzzles. The first launch, which was successful [and presumably the second launch, which was not], orbited a pair of spacecraft, one radar and one electro-optical. By one account, the former had a mass of a bit under 1,000 kg, and the later a bit more.

The Ikonos commercial imagery spacecraft initially had a mass a bit under 1,000 kg. The commercial GeoEye-1, launched in March 2007, had an initial mass of 2050 kg. The H-IIA booster has a Sun Synchronous Orbit payload capacity to 800km of about about 4,000 kg, suggesting that single launches of either type of IGS are probably not greater than this mass. The dual launch in 2013 featured a reducaed operating altitude for the optical satellite, compared to previous single launches, but the radar satellite exibited no such penalty.

On 27/28 March 2003 Japan launched its first two spy satellites from the island of Tanegashima, one-thousand kilometers southwest of Tokyo. The launch came amid mounting fears of a North Korean ballistic missile test. The black and orange H-2-A rocket blasted off at 10:27 a-m local time Friday, carrying Japan's first two reconnaissance satellites into space. The satellites will be used for multiple purposes, including spying on North Korea, which has alarmed Japan with a series of acts that Tokyo views as highly provocative. They include restarting banned nuclear facilities and withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

IGS 1A (Informaton Gathering Satellite 1A) and IGS 1B are two Japanese reconnaissance satellites that were launched by a H-2A rocket from Tanegashima Space Center at 01:27 UT on 27/28 March 2003. They may be tasked to watch for nuclear explosions and missile launches in nearby countries, in addition to global natural disasters and hurricanes. As such, according to the Japanese Defence Ministry, the launch was not in violation of the Japan-N. Korea declaration of September 2002. One of the two spacecraft uses optical cameras with a resolution of one meter; the other uses synthetic aperture radar to provide images at a resolution of a few meters. No information is available as to which satellite carries which instrument.

The opening duo of satellites in this IGS range – the 1A and 1B – were incapacitated by 2007, four years after their March 28, 2003 launch, as one of the pair lost its radar ability.

The failed launch of two spy satellites [IGS-2A and IGS-2B] on 29 November 2003 was a blow to the prestige of Japan's space program and its intelligence efforts. The rocket lifted off smoothly from the southern island of Tanegashima, about one-thousand kilometers from Tokyo. Minutes later, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency officials ordered the rocket destroyed. The agency says it believes that one of the two rocket boosters failed to separate from the fuselage in the second phase of the flight. The Japanese designed and produced H-2-A rocket was carrying two sophisticated spy satellites meant to work with another pair already in orbit. Together, the four satellites would have allowed Japan to monitor any point on the globe.

IGS 3A (Information Gathering Satellite 3A) is a Japanese optical surveillance military satellite that was launched at 04:35 UT on 11 September 2006 by a H-2A rocket from Tanegashima Space Center. It was the third such spy satellite since 2003.

IGS 4A (Information Gathering Satellites 4A), an optical satellite, was one of a pair of Japanese military reconnaissance satellites that were launched by an H-2 rocket from Tanegashima Space Center at 04:41 UT on 24 February 2007. IGS 4B (Information Gathering Satellite 4B), a radar satellite, is one of a pair of Japanese military reconnaissance satellites that were launched by an H-2 rocket from Tanegashima Space Center at 04:41 UT on 24 February 2007. They are intended to provide early warning of impending hostile launches in the neighborhood. One of them uses a radar and the other optical telescopes to sight such launches, but the capabilities are not matched to the names. By 2009 there was a plan to improve the performance of the IGS, as well as the interagency initiative to promote the development and use of space in a comprehensive and systematic manner. In light of these factors, the Ministry of Defense needs to work on enhancing its imagery gathering capability, including the performance of the IGS.

For effective response to new threats and diverse contingencies, it was extremely important for national security to use satellites with imagery information gathering capability, in order to monitor military trends in the region surrounding Japan on a daily basis and to detect signs of these contingencies at an early stage.

Therefore, in addition to the use of commercial satellites, the Ministry of Defense and the SDF may consider having their own imagery satellites. However, operation of satellites requires considerable cost and manpower. There is also the possibility of functional overlap between these satellites and the IGS, and the latter will continue to shoulder an important role in providing necessary information for national security with improved performance (even if the Ministry of Defense owns a satellite, its capacity is bound to about the same as that of the IGS in the foreseeable future). In addition to such factors, we need to take into view the overall initiative of the government. As of 2009, the following measures were determined to be more necessary:

  • Enhance the capability of the IGS (such as improving the resolution performance), for which Japan had accumulated experience in development, maintenance, and operation, to further improve the quality and quantity of available image data and enhance the complementarity with commercial satellites through the MOD;
  • Consider technological feasibility and cost effectiveness of increasing the unit number of IGS (increasing the frequency of observation), in addition to operation-responsive small satellites.

The Ministry of Defense was to proactively engage in discussions for improving the abovementioned capabilities and developing the necessary operation postures. Also, concerning the effective use of data from ALOS and other satellites for civilian use, the Ministry of Defense will handle data processing and search systems, data management structures, and considerations for the public use of said data from the viewpoint of national security, under the interactive, concerted effort of the government as a whole.

A Japanese military optical Information Gathering Satellite, IGS 5A was launched on an H-2A rocket from Tanegashima on 28 November 2009 at 01:21 UT. It was said to advance the resolution ability when compared to the previous satellites.

IGS 6A-Radar 3 (Information Gathering Satellite), a Japanese satellite, was launched on 23 September 2011 at 04:36 UT from Tanegashima by an H-2A rocket. The classified satellite carries sensors to supply imagery to the Japanese government for intelligence, defense and civilian remote sensing applications. Some sources report that this was an optical imaging reconnaissance satellite launched as a replacement for IGS 3 (IGS Optical 2) - 2006-037A/29393, which was nearing the end of its life. But the reported orbital elements are more consistent with a radar satellite, suggesting the IGS 3 replacement was in fact IGS 7 launched in December 2011.

IGS 7A Optical 4 (Information Gathering Satellite), a Japanese reconnaissance satellite, was launched from Tanegashima on 12 December 2011 at 01:21 UT by a H-2A rocket. IGS 7A joined Japans Information Gathering Satellite system expanding the country's capacity to observe military and civil developments around the world. The Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) is a military spy satellite system whose primary mission is to provide early warning of impending hostile launches.

By January 2013 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. were set to launch an information-gathering radar satellite and an optical satellite using an H-2A rocket. The liftoff was scheduled at around 1:40 p.m. Sunday from JAXA's Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan. Japan currently had a radar satellite and three optical satellites in operation. With the planned launch, it aimed to expand its satellite network so that any specific point on the ground can be shot at least once a day, according to reports. Japan launched a new Information Gathering Satellite (IGS) known as Radar-4 – along with Optical-5 demo satellite – via their H-2A (H-IIA) launch vehicle, on 27 January 2013. The radar satellite was reportedly capable of detecting objects on the ground even at night and through cloud cover, while the optical satellite is designed to demonstrate higher resolution shooting technology.

The IGS-Optical 5 (Intelligence Gathering Satellite) is the first of the third generation Japanese optical reconnaisance satellite, slated for launch in 2014.

Japan launched an information-gathering satellite with an optical reconnaissance payload on an H-2A rocket on 26 March 2015. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries launched the spy satellite aboard the H-2A Launch Vehicle No.28 at 01:21 GMT from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Kagoshima prefecture. The rocket and the satellite separated as planned and the satellite successfully entered orbit. Intelligence satellites monitor ground surfaces to gain information related to national security and disasters. The launch carried the first third- generation spacecraft for the series, Optical 5, which will obtain high-resolution images.

Japan launched a new intelligence satellite on 17 March 2017. The Radar 5 unit was carried into space on Japan's mainstay H-2A rocket from the launch site in the country's southwest. It was meant to replace an existing satellite that is coming to the end of its mission. Japan started putting spy satellites into orbit in 2003 after North Korea fired a mid-range ballistic missile over the Japanese mainland and into the western Pacific in 1998.

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.

An H2A rocket carrying the intelligence-gathering satellite lifted off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan, at 1:20 PM on 12 June 2018. It put the satellite into orbit some 20 minutes later. The Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which carried out the launch, cited security reasons for not disclosing launch details, such as the altitude of the satellite release. The reconnaissance satellite is designed to capture images of the Earth's surface from hundreds of kilometers up.

Japan operates optical and radar satellites. The optical type use high-performance cameras to take images during the day, while the radar satellites take photos at night and in bad weather using radio waves. The latest launch was of a radar-type satellite.

The Japanese government uses the satellites to monitor North Korea's missile-launching facilities and to assess the extent of damage in disasters among other things.

Japan now had 8 intelligence-gathering satellites in orbit. Six are in operation. An optical-type satellite launched in February 2018 was being prepared to go into operation. The government plans to increase the number of reconnaissance satellites in orbit to 10.

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