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Japan launches Korean satellite in play for commercial space business

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Japan has launched its first rocket carrying a foreign commercial satellite, taking a Korean Arirang 3 into orbit onboard an H-2A.

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Japan launched its first rocket carrying a foreign satellite this morning, in a joint operation by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The H-2A rocket, which is primarily built by Mitsubishi, took four satellites into orbit including a multipurpose observation Arirang 3 satellite from South Korea. JAXA announced that the launch from Tanegashima Space Center was successful, with the Arirang 3 satellite separating from the rocket 16 minutes after takeoff at about 680 kilometers. Until now, JAXA has largely been involved with the launch of government equipment such as spy satellites.

As with the consumer electronics industry, Japan's space business has suffered of late due to high labor costs and the strong yen, and Mitsubishi says that commercial launches are becoming increasingly necessary to offset the expense of government operations. However, while the H-2A has a success rate of over 95 percent, its launches are reportedly priced significantly over the industry standard of $100 million, and far beyond the $55 million US commercial startup SpaceX charges for its Falcon rocket. A price-competitive JAXA successor is projected to be ready by 2022 — meanwhile, SpaceX's much-delayed inaugural flight to the International Space Station is scheduled for tomorrow, May 19th.