Japan has successfully launch on Wednesday its next-generation geostationary weather satellite into orbit. The spacecraft, named Himawari 9 (meaning "sunflower" in Japanese), was lifted atop an H-IIA booster from Yoshinobu Launch Complex at the Tanegashima Space Center at 3:20 p.m. Japan Standard Time (6:20 a.m. GMT; 2:20 a.m. EDT).
First information about the launch of Himawari 9 was released in 2010, targeting 2016 for the start of this mission, however not specifying even the quarter of the year. The exact date of the liftoff was revealed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Sept. 2, setting Nov. 1 as the day of the launch, but due to unfavorable weather, it was postponed to Nov. 2.
Himawari 9 as well as the H-IIA booster arrived at the Tanegashima Space Center few months earlier. The rollout of the rocket to the launch pad was carried out some 13 hours before the planned blastoff. Propellant loading operations started approximately five hours later.
Embarking on a 28-minute long trip to space, the H-IIA rocket burned out its two additional strap-on boosters called SRB-A in nearly two minutes after liftoff. The rocket’s first stage accelerated the launch vehicle during the first eight minutes of the flight. Next, the second stage took control over the mission, burning for slightly more than five minutes, sending the spacecraft coasting towards the targeted geosynchronous orbit.
The spacecraft will reside at an altitude of about 22,200 miles (35,800 kilometers), in an orbit inclined 140 degrees East. From this location, it will be able to capture visible light and infrared images of the Asian-Pacific region.
Built by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (MELCO), the Himawari 9 satellite weighs about 3.5 metric tons and has dimensions of 17 by 26.2 by 17.4 feet (5.2 by 8.0 by 5.3 meters), when fully deployed. It is based on the company’s DS-2000 bus and is fitted with one gallium arsenide solar array, providing up to 2.6 kW of power. The spacecraft is designed to be operational for 15 years.
Himawari 9 will be operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). It will initially serve as a backup for its identical predecessor, designated Himawari 8, that was launched into orbit in October 2014 and finally replace it in 2022. Both spacecraft are successors to JMA’s Multi-functional Transport Satellite (MTSAT) series, but include significant advancements in frequency, resolution and precision.
Himawari 9’s primary instrument is the Advanced Himawari Imager (AHI). Its 16 channels, including three visible wavelength bands (red, green and blue) will allow the satellite to create ‘true-color’ images of the Earth. The imager has a spatial resolution of 0.31 to 1.24 miles (0.5 to 2 kilometers), depending on spectral band. The instrument will be used for weather and environment monitoring, as well as for wind derivation purposes by tracking clouds and water vapor features.
The satellite also features two other important instruments: the Space Environment Data Acquisition monitor (SEDA) and the Data Collection Subsystem (DCS). SEDA will monitor the fluxes of electrons and protons in order to measure the radiation to which satellites are exposed in space. DCS will be is used to collect and relay data via Earth-based observation channels (Data Collection Platforms, or DCPs) within the communication range of a geostationary satellite.
Japan hopes that Himawari 9 will improve meteorological services in a variety of fields including weather forecasting, climate monitoring, natural disaster prevention and safe transportation.