New satellite to aid disaster relief


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency plans to launch a mapping satellite this weekend that can see through cloud and is designed to measure topography such as natural disaster sites and changes in rain forests.

The Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 is scheduled for launch shortly after noon Saturday aboard an H-IIA rocket, JAXA said.

The satellite will be able to monitor scars left by quakes or typhoons as well as rebuilding work, the agency said, functions that are important for Japan, which lies on the Pacific ring of fire and experiences 20 percent of the world’s major earthquakes every year.

Memories are still fresh of the deadly magnitude-9.0 earthquake of March 2011 that caused the killer tsunami on the Tohoku region coast and sparked the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Japan also suffers routine damage from typhoons, and scientists moreover expect eruptions soon from volcanoes such as Mount Fuji.

Japanese spy satellites already monitor risks such as those from North Korea, but this satellite, nicknamed Daichi-2, will have a substantially different mission.

It will “conduct a health check mainly of the Earth’s land areas in detail,” JAXA project manager Shinichi Suzuki said in a statement.

Daichi-2 will monitor the deformation of the Earth’s crust as well as the impact of floods and landslides, he said.

It carries a special radar that can observe the planet’s surface at night, during bad weather and even through vegetation, the agency said.

This makes is suitable for monitoring tropical rain forests, which by their nature are often shrouded in cloud. The satellite will also be used to observe snow and ice conditions at the poles.

A similar mapping satellite also operated by Japan helped officials monitor damage resulting from the events of 2011, Suzuki said.