Another successful leap into space by Japan
Japan once again demonstrated a steady progress of the nation's space development as an H-2A rocket successfully delivered into orbit on Saturday, a satellite for weather observation and air traffic control. The rocket was the ninth H2A and the first to be launched within a month of another successful launch, Japan Times reported. On Jan. 24, a land-observation satellite was put into orbit by this rocket only.
The Japanese-developed rocket carried a 4.6-ton weather and navigation satellite, one of the heaviest satellites Japan has so far launched and was launched from the remote southern island of Tanegashima. The liftoff was successful and no problems were immediately reported, said Toshihisa Horiguchi, a spokesman for Japan's space agency, JAXA. The rocket lifted off at 3:27 p.m., one minute behind the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's original plan, from the launch pad on Tanegashima Island off the southern tip of Kyushu. The ninth liftoff of an H-IIA launch vehicle was delayed to avoid a possible collision between the vehicle or its parts and the International Space Station orbiting the Earth, scientists said. In addition to the core two-stage vehicle, the mission required the maximum of six solid rocket boosters to deliver the 10,000-pound (4,535-kilogram) craft into orbit. Within half an hour, shortly before 4 p.m., the satellite was separated from the rocket and was sent toward a designated orbit as planned, said a JAXA spokeswoman Nobuko Sato. Sato also mentioned that though the rocket launch went successfully, it will still take several days before we can find out whether the satellite performs its initial steps and enters the orbit successfully.
The satellite carried into space, officially called the Multifunctional Transport Satellite 2 (MTSAT-2), was expected to reach geostationary orbit about 36,000 km above the equator in 5 1/2 days. The MTSAT-2 will be a backup for the MTSAT-1, which was put into orbit in February 2005. The MTSAT-1 was later named the Himawari-6. Himawari means sunflower. The Himawari-6's mission is scheduled to end in 2010, according to the satellite's operator, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.
The newer satellite will be also used as an air traffic control satellite to cope with a crowded civil flights in the Asia-Pacific region. The satellite will provide direct voice and data links from control centers to the cockpits of airliners. This will be a vast improvement over the previous heavy reliance on ground-based antennas with limited range. The MTSAT spacecraft will also help enhance the navigation data gathered by Global Positioning System satellites, and automatically transmit that positioning data to air traffic controllers using its data relay capability when aircraft are beyond the range of radar sites. During the ten-year mission, the combined effect of these improvements should expand the airspace capacity across Japan and the adjacent waters of the Pacific, where crowded skies have caused difficulties for controllers. Precise navigation information will be available at air traffic control consoles on radar screens, and direct communications will be more consistent between pilots and the ground.
MTSAT-2's second operational objective is to serve as a weather observatory for Japanese forecasters. When MTSAT-1R's meteorological payload surpasses its planned five-year service life, MTSAT-2 will assume a primary role in weather observations, with the older craft trading spots and entering a standby mode. The satellite will also collect seismic, and tidal reports from remote observation posts for relay to central forecasting centers for analysis by scientists.
Japan also plans to launch spy satellites by March 2007 and is considering a plan to establish a manned base on the moon by 2025.