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Japan Launches New Observatory for Infrared Sky Survey

Japan Launches New Observatory for Infrared Sky Survey
An artist's interpretation of Japan's ASTRO-F infrared space observatory in orbit. The telescope launched spaceward atop an M-5 rocket on Feb. 21, 2008.

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.

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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.