A new space-basedobservatory is circling the Earth after a successful launch from Japan'sUchinoura Space Center.
The ASTRO-F infraredobservatory rocketed into space atop an M-5 booster that launched on time atabout 4:28 p.m. EST (2128 GMT), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)reported.
The launch marked JAXA'ssecond attempt to launch ASTRO-F this week after poor weather prevented aMonday space shot. It is also the second successful space shot for Japan infour days following the Feb. 18 launchof the Multi-functional Transport Satellite-2 (MTSAT-2) atop an H-2A rocket.
"ASTRO-F is flying quitewell," JAXA officials said in a launch update, adding that the observatorysuccessfully popped free from its booster's upper stage.
Previously known as theInfraRed Imaging Surveyor (IRIS), the ASTRO-F observatory is a space-basedinfrared telescope designed to conduct a comprehensive survey of the sky from asynchronous polar orbit. The mission is a joint effort of JAXA and researchersfrom Korea and the European Space Agency (ESA), JAXA officials said.
The 2,098-pound (952-kilogram) ASTRO-Fobservatory is the first dedicated infrared instrument for JAXA's Institute of Space and AstronauticalScience (ISAS).Today's launch comes after a design flaw revealedin December 2003 delayed ASTRO-F from a 2004 liftoff.
The observatory is designedto circle the Earth every 100 minutes in a polar orbit with an altitude ofabout 462 miles (745 kilometers), according to its flight plan.