Japanese satellite in orbit without problems

A Japanese observation satellite attained its proper orbit and was functioning without problems Wednesday, a day after its launch, officials said. The four-ton Advanced Land Observation Satellite, nicknamed Daichi, was launched Tuesday by a Japanese-developed H-2A rocket from the remote southern island of Tanegashima.

The satellite has three earth sensors that can obtain terrain data for maps and make weather observations of the Asia-Pacific region. "It has reached its orbit and there are no problems," said Masayuki Kono, a spokesman for Japan's space agency, JAXA.

Technical problems and bad weather had repeatedly delayed the launch. Its success clears the way for another H-2A launch next month from Tanegashima, and of two spy satellites by March 2007 to monitor North Korea and other trouble spots, a program approved after North Korea launched a missile over Japan's main island in 1998.

Japan is also now racing to catch up to China, which has put astronauts in space twice since 2003, becoming only the third country to send a human into orbit on its own after Russia and the United States. Beijing has said it will send three more astronauts into space as early as 2007.

Following Beijing's success, Japan, which put its first satellite in orbit in 1972, made an abrupt policy turnabout, saying it was reconsidering its focus on unmanned missions and announcing plans to send its first astronauts into space and set up a base on the moon by 2025, reports the AP. N.U.