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Japan Launches Satellite To Monitor CO2

The first satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide emissions was launched into space Friday from a center in Japan, where officials hope to gather information on climate change - and help the country compete in the lucrative satellite-launching business.

The satellite - named "Ibuki," which means "breath" - was sent into orbit along with seven other piggyback probes on a Japanese H2A rocket. Japan's space agency, JAXA, said the launch was a success but officials there said they were monitoring the satellites to make sure that they entered orbit properly.

Ibuki, which will circle the globe every 100 minutes, will store information on greenhouse gas levels around the globe for the next five years. The data will be shared with NASA in the United States and other space and scientific organizations.

Officials said the Ibuki satellite mission was the first of its kind. It is equipped with optical sensors that measure reflected light from the Earth and check the density of carbon dioxide and methane, two gases that are considered to be the main contributors to global warming.

"Global warming is one of the most pressing issues facing the international community, and Japan is fully committed to reducing CO2," said Yasushi Tadami, an official working on the project for Japan's Environment Ministry. "The advantage of Ibuki is that it can monitor the density of CO2 and methane gas anywhere in the world."

There are currently 282 land-based sites to monitor carbon dioxide, and Ibuki's capabilities will boost that substantially, especially in developing nations where monitoring is difficult.

"So far, the number of ground-based carbon dioxide observation points has been limited, and they have been distributed unequally throughout the world," JAXA said on its Web site. "Ibuki will enable the precise monitoring of the density of carbon dioxide by combining global observation data sent from space with data obtained on land, and with simulation models."

Ibuki, which will orbit at an altitude of about 415 miles (670 kilometers), will monitor the levels of carbon dioxide and methane from 56,000 locations. It was launched from a site in Tanegashima, a remote island about 600 miles (970 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo.

Along with its scientific mission, the launch of the piggyback satellites was seen as crucial to Japan, which is trying to demonstrate its domestically developed H2A rocket can compete in the global commercial launching business.

Japan has long been one of the world's leading space-faring nations and launched its first satellite in 1970.

But it has been struggling to get out from under China's shadow in recent years and gain a hold in the global rocket-launching industry, which is dominated by Russia, the U.S. and Europe's Arianespace.

JAXA says the latest launch itself cost about 8.5 billion yen ($96 million), the lowest ever. The standard for a competitive launch - set by Russia's Proton rocket - used to be around 7 billion yen, but has now risen to around 9 billion.

JAXA officials said the agency has already selected four other piggybacks for a launch in 2011.

Earlier this month, Japan got its first commercial order to launch a satellite on an H2A. The agreement - which plans to liftoff after April 2011 - is with South Korea.