U.S. satellite to sit in for Himawari No. 5

Based on a May accord with the United States, a U.S. satellite next year will temporarily replace Japan’s sole geostationary weather satellite, the Meteorological Agency said on Wednesday.

The U.S. Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-9 will replace the Himawari No. 5 in mid-April.

It will provide digital images until December 2003, when a new Japanese multifunctional satellite goes into operation after its launch in the summer, the agency said.

The Himawari No. 5, launched in 1995, has been forced to perform beyond original expectations following the failed launch of a domestic H-II rocket in November 1999. The service life of the unit ended in March 2000.

In December, the U.S. GEOS-9 will be moved 74,000 km over 100 days from its current position at 105 degrees west longitude above the equator to 155 degrees east longitude.

Work to update antenna facilities in Fairbanks, Alaska, are currently on schedule, the Meteorological Agency said. The facility is operated by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration of the United States.

Japan has already paid the U.S. 670 million yen for the work on the antenna, while the satellite costs 16 million yen a month to rent, the agency said.

The role of the Himawari is vital for Japanese weather reports as it takes hourly pictures featured in TV and newspaper reports.

Due to prolonged use, the satellite is running low on fuel and its batteries are deteriorating, meteorological agency officials said.

They added, however, that they believe the Himawari will function properly until mid-April, as they have taken measures to extend longevity, such as limiting camera mirror motion and suspending position fine-tuning.