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Fishing industry agrees to more Japanese launches

Posted: July 29, 2010

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The Japanese space agency can start launching rockets year-round next April after an influential fishing lobby agreed to lift a seasonal ban on flights from two space centers in the southern part of the country.

A view of the Yoshinobu launch complex at Tanegashima Space Center. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
The new policy is effective next April 1, the beginning of the Japanese government's fiscal year 2011. It permits launches any time of the year from two space centers in Kagoshima prefecture in southern Japan.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and a local fisheries council recently agreed to allow unrestricted rocket launches from the Tanegashima Space Center and Uchinoura Space Center, JAXA said in a statement Thursday.

JAXA says the move will help ensure autonomous access to space and enhance the competitiveness of Japanese firms for commercial launch services.

Five coastal prefectures in southern Japan were involved in the negotiations, according to JAXA.

Since the dawn of the Japanese space program, the powerful fishing industry has limited most rocket flights from the spaceports to a few months each year, citing fears the launches could disrupt fish harvests in the waters offshore Tanegashima and Uchinoura.

The most recent policy only permitted launches from July 22 through Sept. 30 and Nov. 1 through Feb. 28, opening up the spaceports for launch operations about 190 days each year. A small window in late June and early July was also sometimes reserved for launches.

The tight constraints meant Japan could stage just a handful of space launches per year.

Japan has made rare exceptions for deep space probes that must lift off in short launch periods based on the alignment of the planets. A pair of secret government spy satellites also blasted off outside of the traditional 190-day launch seasons in 2003.

Tanegashima Space Center is the home of Japan's H-2A and H-2B rocket programs for large satellites and International Space Station servicing missions. The launch site lies on the southeast shore of Tanegashima Island.

Uchinoura launches sounding rockets and was the base of the M-5 rocket for small scientific satellites until it was retired in 2006.