Japan successfully launches sunflower satellite Himawari-8
Despite strong winds at 1:16 am EST (2:16 pm JST) on Oct 7, Japan’s Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched the Himawari-8 satellite on time to begin studying the weather from space. The weather was partly cloudy and launch conditions in the afternoon hours were favorable for launch. Himawari, meaning “sunflower” in Japanese, was carried aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 25 (HII-A F25) from the Tanegashima Space Center into geostationary orbit, adding to Japan’s fleet of earth-observing weather satellites. The Tanegashima Space Center is located on the island of Tanegashima, off the southern coast of Japan’s Kyushu island.
The launch went smoothly without errors or delays from engine ignition to spacecraft separation. At about 1:18 a.m. EST (2:18 p.m. JST) the two solid rocket boosters filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants separated from the vehicle and soon after, the H-IIA shed its payload fairing. It was followed soon after by the first stage engine cutoff at 1:25 a.m. EST (2:25 p.m. JST) and the first stage separation, which followed with the ignition of the 2nd stage. The 2nd stage engine cutoff occurred at 1:30 a.m. EST (2:30 p.m. JST), with it starting back up again at 1:42 am EST (2:42 pm JST). Finally, the 2nd stage engine cutoff once more at 1:45 am EST (2:45 pm JST) and the Himwari-8 spacecraft successfully separated from the 2nd stage about a minute later.
Soon to be located at around 23,922 miles (35,800 km) above the equator at 140 degrees east longitude, the sunflower satellite will begin its mission of observing clouds and weather patterns far above the Earth. Derived from the originals et of Geostationary Meteorological Satellites (GMS), Himawari-8 is to observe our planet’s weather patterns from orbit as part of the World Weather Watch (WWW) project of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The images taken over the East Asia and Western Pacific regions by these satellites are then used for weather forecasts within the media as a means to prevent disaster in these areas. The goal of this satellite is to provide more meticulous observations and disaster preparations.
Equipped with cameras dubbed Advanced Himawari Imagers (AHIs), the satellite’s color, high resolution images will be sent through an internet cloud service to Japan’s National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs). The AHIs are equipped with 16 observation wavebands: 3 for visible light 3 for near-infrared light, and 10 for infrared light. These imagers work by moving internal scanning mirrors starting north and moving east to west. The target area is scanned by the full disk within the device and can be moved by changing the direction of the mirrors. As such, the light gathered by these mirrors are absorbed by the 16 wavebands before being turn into electrical signals transmitted to ground stations in Japan.
Within just a 2.5 minute interval, the 7,716 pound (3,500 kg) Himawari-8 is able to scan all of Japan in a series of images. Observations are made by Himawari and the data is sent back to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) every 10 minutes, opposed to its predecessor’s interval of 30 minutes between observations. This allows for more accurate data for a quicker reaction time, should a future disaster (such as a typhoon) be spotted.
The imagers used with Himawari were based on the Exelis Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI), which were built for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use with their Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) fleet. Himawari-8 is the very first mission launched to use an Exelis ABI-class instrument, that will eventually be implemented into future satellites, including the anticipated GOES-R.
“We are all excited to get the ABI technology launched into space,” said Eric Webster, vice president for weather systems for Exelis. “It will help Japan with improved forecasting and NOAA with ABI-class data for testing and use before GOES-R launches in 2016. Japan has been hit by several large typhoons recently and ABI technology will provide significant improved capabilities for severe storm forecasting.”
Aside from the improved imagery, this mission will also introduce the HimawariCast service, which allows NMHSs to receive images taken by the satellite through a communication using Digital Video Broadcasting – Satellite – Second Generation (DVB-S2) technology.
The first GMS satellite that the Himawari line was based from, Himawari (GMS), was launched on Jul 14, 1977 aboard an American Delta 2000 rocket out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Managed by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the Himawari satellites originally ended with Himawari-5 (GMS-5) in 1995 when the series was replaced by a Multifunctional Transport Satellite (MTSAT) series in order to broaden the scope of its original operations. In 2005 JMA successfully launch Himawari-6 – the first of the Multifunctional Transport Satellite series – which also became the first to utilize the HII-A expendable launch system.
Both the satellite and the launch vehicle were built by aspects of the Mitsubishi Group, with Mitsubishi Electric being the prime contractor for the Himawari satellite and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries producing the H-IIA rocket.
Standing at a height of about 178 ft (53 m) with a mass of 578,000 lbs (262,176 kg), the H-IIA medium launch vehicle first flew in 2001 (dubbed TF1), carrying two successful payloads. The H-IIA is derived from the H-II rockets which launched Himawari-5 and other Japanese spacecraft through the late 1990s. It has served as the launch vehicle for the two previous GMS satellites, Himwari-6 and Himawari-7, as well as numerous earth observational satellites for Japan. Tuesday’s launch of Himawari-8 is the rocket’s 25th launch, with one more planned for this year which will carry the Hayabusa 2 satellite.
The sunflower satellite launched on Tuesday will be replacing its predecessor Himawari-7 (also dubbed MTSAT-2) and will remain in operation for a period of 15 years (until 2022). In 2016, JMA then plans to launch its sister satellite, dubbed Himawari-9, as a backup successor. Himawari-9 is currently being built by Kamakura Works and marks over 20 years of Mitsubishi Electric’s involvement with the Multifunctional Transport Satellite (MTSAT) line.
Britt Rawcliffe is a professional freelance aerospace and aviation photographer based out of Pennsylvania with over six years of professional photographic experience. Her creative imagery has spanned into all areas relating to space, including launches, photojournalism, architecture, and portraiture. Britt’s passion for history has been a common thread in much of her work, including having photographed many Moonwalkers such as Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan.