Watch live: Japan poised for launch of optical spy satellite

Video credit: NVS video

A Japanese launch team is counting down to liftoff of an H-2A rocket and a Japanese reconnaissance satellite from the Tanegashima Space Center at 0134 GMT Sunday (8:34 p.m. EST Saturday) after a 12-day delay caused by a nitrogen leak.

Japanese crews returned the H-2A rocket to its vertical assembly building at Tanegashima for repairs following the aborted countdown Jan. 27. Officials from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, builder and prime contractor for the H-2A rocket, said the leak detected during the previous countdown was in the system providing conditioned air to the rocket.

The 174-foot-tall (53-meter) H-2A rocket returned to Launch Pad No. 1 at the Yoshinobu launch complex at Tanegashima Saturday in preparation for the mission’s second launch attempt.

MHI teams gave approval to load super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants into the two-stage H-2A rocket in the hours before liftoff.

MHI and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which owns the Tanegashima Space Center, will not provide a live webcast of Sunday’s mission. Japanese launch officials typically provide live video coverage of space launches, but not for missions carrying the country’s spy satellites.

News media and spectators gathered around Tanegashima planned to stream live video of the launch from nearby viewing sites.

After beginning an automated terminal countdown sequence, the H-2A will switch to internal power and pressurize its cryogenic propellant tanks before igniting its first stage LE-7A main engine at T-minus 5.2 seconds.

The engine will throttle up and go through a computer-controlled health check before the H-2A ignites two strap-on solid rocket boosters to climb away from Tanegashima Island in southern Japan.

The H-2A rocket will head toward the south from Tanegahima with 1.4 million pounds of thrust from its first stage engine and strap-on boosters. The solid-fueled rocket motors will burn out and jettison nearly two minutes into the flight, and the H-2A’s aerodynamic payload shroud will separate roughly four minutes after liftoff.

Shutdown of the LE-7A first stage engine and stage separation will occur nearly seven minutes into the mission, and the upper stage’s LE-5B engine will fire to place the Japanese government’s newest spy satellite into polar orbit.

File photo of a Japanese H-2A rocket during rollout to the launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center. Credit: JAXA

Japan’s government-owned orbiting robotic spy platforms are officially known as “Information Gathering Satellites” and come in radar and optical imaging variants. The spacecraft awaiting liftoff on the next H-2A flight — designated IGS Optical 7 — is the 18th Information Gathering Satellite launched by Japan’s government since 2003, including two satellites lost in an H-2A launch failure.

The spacecraft’s specifications, including its imaging performance, are kept secret by the Japanese government. The Information Gathering Satellites are operated by the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which reports directly to the Japanese government’s executive leadership.

The H-2A rocket with the IGS Optical 7 satellite will fly in the basic “202” configuration with two strap-on solid rocket boosters. Heavier satellites launching on the H-2A sometimes need four boosters to reach orbit.

The mission will mark the 41st flight of an H-2A rocket since 2001, and the first Japanese space launch of 2020.

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