AFP - Japan successfully launched the world's first satellite dedicated to monitoring global greenhouse gas emissions Friday as part of efforts to tackle climate change, the space agency said.
The project will help scientists measure the density of carbon dioxide and methane across almost the entire surface of the Earth, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
A Japanese-made H-2A rocket carrying the Ibuki satellite blasted off at 12:54 pm (0354 GMT) from a space centre on Tanegashima, a small island in southern Japan, after a two-day delay due to bad weather.
Roughly 16 minutes later, Ibuki, which means "breath of fresh air" in Japanese, successfully separated from the rocket, prompting cheers and applause from scientists involved in the mission.
Tourists and schoolchildren watched the rocket shoot into the sky, leaving a trail of fumes as it disappeared into the clouds. Images beamed back to the ground later showed it high up in space with the Earth in the background.
The satellite will collect data from 56,000 locations around the world, a dramatic increase from the 282 observation points available as of last October, JAXA said.
It will produce accurate data of greenhouse gas emissions, including those in developing countries that have so far been hard to monitor, it said.
Japan hopes the mission will provide governments with useful data as they come under pressure to meet the 2008-2012 Kyoto Protocol's goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
"Japan is determined to expand its space development as part of its national strategy looking forward," Noda Seiko, Japan's minister in charge of space development, told a press conference.
"Ibuki is a part of Japan's unique contribution to the world and I am very optimistic about its activity of providing data on global warming."
Ibuki is equipped with two sensors. One will track infrared rays from the sun that are reflected from the Earth's surface or the atmosphere, helping to calculate the density of greenhouse gases.
The other will monitor clouds and aerosols, which often lead to errors in calculation.
The satellite, will fly around the earth in about 100 minutes, at a height of 660 kilometres (412 miles). It is set to be in orbit for five years and will release preliminary data nine months after the launch.
The rocket is also carrying seven mini-satellites, including several produced by Japanese universities.
The successful launch was a boost to Japan's efforts to win satellite launch orders for its H-2A rocket in the face of tough competition from US and European companies.
Japan, like China and India, has been stepping up its space operations and is currently conducting the world's most extensive mission to the moon in decades. It hopes to send an astronaut there by 2020.
Tokyo suffered a high-profile setback in 2003 when it was forced to destroy a rocket carrying a spy satellite because a booster failed to separate.
Japan is not the only country looking to step up the monitoring of greenhouse gases from space. The United States is set to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory this year to measure atmospheric carbon-dioxide.