Japan has four spy satellites in orbit. The satellites, commissioned to keep track of North Korea’s missile program, were launched in the mid to late 2000s.  Three of the satellites are optical satellites.

Japan’s only synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite, No. 2, has apparently lost power.

According to the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, the No. 2 radar satellite, put into orbit in February 2007, appears to have run into trouble related to electrical power supply, and restoration work is under way. (Link)

Chances of repair don’t look good.

The Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center said it detected a glitch in the satellite’s radar system Monday and began remote operations to restart the system. However, an official of the center said the outlook for recovery was “extremely grim.” (Link)

SAR spy satellites use radar waves to image objects. Because they doesn’t rely upon the optical wavelength, the great advantage SAR satellites have over optical ones is the ability to produce imagery at night or in poor weather. The U.S. equivalent is the  Lacrosse program.

H-2A rocket. JAXA photo.

No.2 was one of a pair of satellites that went up on 24 February 2007. Launched from the Tanegashima Space Center on a single H-2A rocket:

IGS 4A and IGS 4B (Information Gathering Satellites 4A and 4B) are 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. The initial orbital parameters of both are similar: period 94.4 min, apogee 494 km, perigee 481 km, and inclination 97.2°. (Link)

The loss of No. 2 effectively means that Japan’s imagery intelligence capability is now restricted to daylight and clear weather.

Read the second article quoted. Japan’s technical intelligence program is still in its infancy, and it shows. No more SAR sats until next year. Sounds like a real mess.

Here’s an article about the Japanese spy satellite program, dating before any satellites went up. And here’s another article dating from last year describing future plans for the program.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 530 post(s) on Japan Security Watch