TOKYO - Japan plans to launch a spy satellite in September aimed at helping it keep an eye on neighbouring North Korea following Pyongyang's launch of a series of missiles earlier this month.
The information-gathering satellite will be Japan's third, after the successful launch of a pair of satellites in March 2003. Two other satellites were lost when a rocket failed in November that year.
The optical satellite will be launched from Tanegashima in southern Japan on September 10, an official at Japan's Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Centre said.
The satellite will be able to differentiate objects a metre or more in diameter, though US military satellites offer far better levels of resolution.
A ban on defence use of space dating from the 1960s has hampered Japan's ability to develop high-tech hardware.
Japan planned its spy satellite programme following North Korea's 1998 launch of a ballistic missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean.
On July 5, Pyongyang launched another volley of missiles, sparking unease across the region.
Meanwhile, the United States will start deploying missile interceptors at a key air force base in Japan from this summer, as part of efforts with Tokyo to deal with the threat of North Korea's missile arsenal, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
The US military will install Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air interceptors at its Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa from September and plans to make them partly operational by the end of the year, the ministry said.
They will be fully operational by the end of March, a ministry official added.
The deployment of the PAC-3s at Kadena - the largest US air base in the Asia-Pacific - would be the first at a US facility in Japan.
Japanese officials said while the system was meant to protect the country from North Korea's missiles - which include hundreds of Rodong missiles that can hit all of Japan - the timing of the deployment, soon after Pyongyang's test-firing of seven missiles earlier this month, was a coincidence.
The PAC-3s are the US military's state-of-the-art missile interceptors and are designed to shoot down incoming ballistic missiles at their terminal phase, shortly before they reach their targets, by firing interceptor missiles at them.
Separately, Japan plans to equip its own military, the Self-Defence Forces, with PAC-3s, and is set to deploy the first such system at an air base just north of Tokyo by the end of March, officials said.
As part of US-Japan cooperation on missile defence, the US Navy will deploy Shiloh, a cruiser equipped with the Aegis missile tracking and engaging system, at one of its bases in Japan, the officials added.