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Japan delays H3 rocket's second launch due to bad weather

By Kantaro Komiya

TOKYO (Reuters) -The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on Tuesday it would delay the launch date of the second model of its new H3 flagship rocket from the initially planned Feb. 15 because of forecasts of poor weather.

The new launch date will be announced later. Weather conditions at the launch site, Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, appear to set recover late Friday, JAXA's H3 project manager, Masashi Okada, told a news conference.

The launch will come about a year after an unsuccessful first flight of Japan's new rocket in March led to the loss of a land observation satellite and a widespread disruption in Japanese satellite and planetary exploration plans.

Although JAXA could not identify the direct cause of the incident, in which the H3 rocket's second-stage engine failed to ignite, it listed three possible electrical faults in a review released in October and implemented remedies.

The upcoming H3 launch is characterised as "test flight", and carries a dummy mass for fear of losing another satellite. Two earth observation micro-satellites, one from Canon Electronics and another from Seiren Co, are onboard as secondary payloads.

Developed by JAXA and prime contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the H3 was meant to replace the two-decade-old H-IIA rocket and reduce per-launch costs by half to about five billion yen ($33.4 million).

In the wake of the historic "pinpoint" moon landing of its SLIM spacecraft last month, a successful H3 flight would demonstrate Japan's space capabilities to its close ally the United States as a counterweight to China's military and technological might.

($1 = 149.5300 yen)

(Reporting by Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Gerry Doyle)