Japan launches greenhouse gas observation satellite

Japan successfully launched on Friday a satellite that promises to provide greater insight into climate changes caused by greenhouse gases.

The Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in western Japan at 12:54 p.m. on Friday, local time, into an overcast sky. The launch of the H-IIA rocket carrying the satellite had been delayed several days because of bad weather but in the end went off without delay. Minutes later, live video from the rocket showed the satellite separating from the craft.

Its orbital position at 666 kilometers above the Earth's surface -- considerably lower than communications satellites -- means the satellite will make an orbit of the planet in about 100 minutes and pass over the same spot roughly once every three days.

All the time, the satellite will be collecting data from sensors to build up and refresh a database of measurements from 56,000 points on the planet. Because all the measurements will have been done with the same equipment and to the same criteria, the data could provide a vastly improved look into the way the Earth is coping with climate change.

The data will be processed by a super-computer at a center in Tsukuba, north east of Tokyo, before being distributed at no charge to scientists around the globe.

GOSAT is a project of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Japan's National Institute for Environmental Studies and the country's Ministry of the Environment.

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