The government is seeking 70.7 billion yen from the fiscal 2002 state budget to launch its first spy satellites, government officials said Monday.

The request, down 8.5 percent from the original fiscal 2001 budget, reflects the completion of groundwork for the project, the officials said.

Around 66 billion yen will be used to develop and launch two pairs of first-generation satellites in February and July 2002. Another 4 billion yen will be set aside to launch two identical substitutes in fiscal 2005 and 2006, and for research on two advanced satellites to be launched in fiscal 2008, the officials said.

The government will also ask for 30 more staff to man its Cabinet satellite information center, bringing the total to about 190, the officials said.

The four satellites include two optical satellites and two radar satellites with long-range photographic capabilities. They were originally intended to be launched in fiscal 2002, but the true launch date has not been announced.

A satellite promotion panel chaired by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda has won approval for the appropriations at a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, the officials said.

The government decided to launch its own information-gathering satellites after North Korea fired a rocket in 1998, part of which passed over Japan before plunging into the Pacific Ocean.

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