Japan in first commercial satellite launch

Japan successfully put a South Korean satellite into space Friday, in its first foray into the European- and Russian-dominated world of commercial launches.

The H-IIA rocket took off from the southern island of Tanegashima on schedule at 1:39 am (1639 GMT Thursday), according to live images relayed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The separation of the KOMPSAT-3 satellite from the rocket was confirmed around 16 minutes after take-off, followed shortly afterwards by the separation of three Japanese satellites also carried by the rocket.

"The rocket is following its programmed trajectory," said a commentary which ran alongside the images of the launch.

It was the 21st launch since 2001 of the H-IIA rocket, which was developed by JAXA.

It has been operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) since its 2007 privatisation, JAXA spokesman Masashi Okada said. Its last six launches were Japanese government-related missions.

MHI hopes to carry out more contract launches and secure a foothold in a lucrative market currently dominated by Europe and Russia.

The satellite was developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute of South Korea to carry out earth observations, officials said.

The institute paid several billion yen (tens of millions of dollars), "the cheapest price in an international auction", the Sankei Shimbun reported, citing the institute. MHI declined to confirm the report.

The rocket also put into space JAXA's Shizuku satellite, which will be used to monitor the circulation of global ocean currents, officials said. The other two satellites were small experimental Japanese models.

European operator Arianespace successfully launched its Ariane 5 rocket with a Japanese and a Vietnamese satellite onboard from French Guiana on Tuesday.

The 4.5-tonne Japanese satellite, replacing an existing orbiter, will provide television services for the whole of the country, as well as for Southeast Asia.

The smaller Vietnamese model will provide television, radio and telephone services in Vietnam.

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