- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

TOKYO Shrouded in secrecy and guarded by gunboats, Japan's latest rocket arrived yesterday at the country's secluded space center, where officials are quietly preparing to launch Japan's first spy satellites in response to North Korea.
The launch is likely to be the most clandestine to date by Japan's space program, the reasons being its payload and the current international standoff over North Korea's nuclear programs.
The project was nearly four years in the making and originally envisioned as an advance-warning system against North Korean military moves.
But officials from Japan's National Space Development Agency were mum about details yesterday as coast guard patrol boats escorted a ship carrying rocket parts to the southern island of Tanegashima, where Japan has its launching pad.
Spokeswoman Yuko Kubota would not confirm media reports that the shipment contained Japan's two-stage H-2A rocket, although she said it was part of the launch. The truck-sized rocket containers, usually bearing the National Space Development Agency logo, were bare and a squad of riot police secured the port as they unloaded, according to Kyodo news agency.
Japan announced last year that it planned to launch the two Earth-observation satellites by the end of March.
But as the launch date nears and relations with North Korea deteriorate, space agency officials have declined to discuss details, including the launching timeline.
Miss Kubota cited the payload as a reason for the extra precautions and said the stepped up security on the island may be extended to include a ban on press coverage of the launch itself.
Japan usually welcomes news coverage of its beleaguered and cash-strapped space program. It has launched four H-2A rockets, most recently in December when one lifted off with an Australian satellite Japan's first launch with an international payload.

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