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TOKYO - Japan's space agency launched an experimental communications satellite Saturday designed to enable super high-speed data transmission at home and in Southeast Asia.
The domestically developed H-2A rocket carrying the satellite, "Kizuna," was launched Saturday evening from the southern island of Tanegashima, according to a live Internet broadcast by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as JAXA.
The satellite, equipped with two large multi-beam antennas, separated from the rocket and successfully entered its intended orbit 175 miles from Earth, JAXA said in a statement.
The agency said it hoped to enable data transmission of up to 1.2 gigabytes per second at a low cost across Japan and in 19 different places in Southeast Asia. JAXA developed Kizuna with another government agency, the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.
The cost of the satellite's development, launch and operation is estimated at $480 million, JAXA spokeswoman Asaka Hagiwara said.
Japan has yet to join the lucrative international satellite market, and Kizuna, which should be in operation for five years, is not intended for commercial use. Its large H-2A rocket is one of the most advanced and reliable in the world — Saturday's was its eighth straight successful launch.
Japan launched its first satellite in 1970 and has achieved several major scientific coups in space — including launching a probe that collected samples from an asteroid.
Japan is racing to catch up with regional rival China, which has put astronauts in space twice since 2003 and was the third country to send a human into orbit after Russia and the United States. Japan has since announced plans to send its first astronauts into space and set up a base on the moon by 2025.
In February 2007, the agency launched its fourth intelligence-gathering satellite amid concerns over neighboring North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.