Japan Launches GOSAT

Jan 26, 2009
By Kazuki Shiibashi

TOKYO - The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has a new tool for analyzing global warming following the Jan. 23 launch of the Greenhouse gases Observing Satellite, or GOSAT.

GOSAT and NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite, due for launch Feb. 23, will map the real-time distribution of greenhouse gases. JAXA says GOSAT alone can provide coverage of 56,000 real-time data points around the globe, updating every three days.

The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA 202 rocket equipped with two strap on SRB-As had to wait two days for favorable weather. Liftoff came at 12:54 JST from Tanegashima Space Center, marking its ninth consecutive H-IIA launch. The spacecraft separated as planned 16 minutes after launch. Solar paddle deployment was confirmed 13:14 JST and GOSAT is reported to be in good condition.

The rocket also successfully deployed seven other piggybacked mini-satellites, a record for a Japanese launcher. GOSAT is nicknamed "Ibuki," which is Japanese for "breath" or "vitality," as it focuses on observing the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane.

Weighing 1.75 metric tons, the spacecraft carries two main instruments, TANSO-FTS (Thermal And Near infrared Sensor for carbon Observation - Fourier Transform Spectrometer) and TANSO-CAI (Cloud and Aerosol Imager). TANSO-FTS will measure the spectrum of infrared rays emitted or reflected from the Earth surface to distinguish the level of greenhouse gases, and TANSO-CAI will assist by checking to see the observation site is free of clouds and aerosols that could mar measurements.

Project Manager Takashi Hamazaki says Ibuki is a "revolutionary step" from the multimission design of most previous JAXA satellites. It was uniquely constructed for one mission and designed with complex dual support systems in case of breakdowns. For example, the satellite has double X-band antennas for communication, two independent mirror systems and two solar panels on each side of the satellite that work separately. Hamazaki calls it "one of the most reliable satellites" and says it should "guarantee" at least five years of operations.

Satellites like GOSAT and NASA's OCO could help create a standard measurement of carbon absorption and emissions, helping measure compliance with the Kyoto Protocol and marking a large leap from self-declared, presumption-based calculations about the volume of oil consumption, industrial gas emissions, etc.

Hamazaki also thinks GOSAT could help detect and monitor leaks from natural-gas pipelines around the world, with its spatial resolution of 10 kilometers. He says as much as 1.5 percent of the gases passing through these pipes leaks out, which is a significant contributor to global warming.

The 18.3 billion yen Ibuki project is jointly funded by JAXA and Japan's Ministry of the Environment and the National Institute for Environmental Studies. Official observations are scheduled to begin in April.


AVIATION WEEK Copyright 2009, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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