Japan launches rocket to bolster space program, loses satellite

Tuesday, February 5, 2002

TANEGASHIMA, Japan -- Japan's struggling space program suffered a setback Mondays when ground controllers lost contact with one of two satellites launched aboard the country's biggest rocket. Scientists said it appeared the module never separated from the rocket.

A black-and-orange H-2A rocket lifted off from Japan's space center carrying two satellites. One entered orbit, but communication with the other was lost as it was scheduled to deploy over the Pacific Ocean, officials said.

Hours later, mission controllers said they were still trying to determine whether $4.5 million DASH research module had been put in orbit. Late Monday, scientists at Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, which created the module, said it had probably failed to separate from the rocket's second stage.

They said they were investigating the cause and would try to determine whether the probe could be salvaged. But space institute official Morita Yasuhiro said earlier that the DASH mission could be not completed if the module did not separate.

The problem was the latest blot on Japan's bid to compete with the United States and Europe in the lucrative business of launching satellites.

"If you can't get a satellite in orbit it doesn't count," said space analyst Joan Johnson-Freese of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. "It's a blow to the space program, but not an unrecoverable one."

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