JAXA satellite to map disaster scars


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency successfully launched a new mapping satellite on Saturday that will be used to survey damage from natural disasters and changes affecting rain forests.

The Advanced Land Observing Satellite-2 will be able to see scars left by the March 2011 tsunami and monitor progress with reconstruction, officials from JAXA said.

“The satellite was successfully put into orbit,” said an official from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which makes the H-IIA rocket that was used to send ALOS-2 into space from the agency’s launch center on Tanegashima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture.

The satellite will provide valuable data for Japan, which sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire and experiences around 20 percent of all major earthquakes worldwide every year.

Memories are still fresh of the deadly magnitude-9.0 quake on March 11, 2011, that spawned the tsunami that devastated the coastline of Tohoku, killing more than 18,000 people and triggering the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The satellite’s predecessor was used to monitor damage caused by the catastrophe.

The new satellite, nicknamed “Daichi-2,” will “conduct a health check mainly of the Earth’s land areas in detail,” JAXA project manager Shinichi Suzuki said. It will collect data related to deformation of the Earth’s crust as well as the impact of floods and landslides.

The satellite uses a special radar to observe the planet’s surface at night, during bad weather and even through vegetation.

JAXA plans to use it to regularly study tropical rain forests, which are difficult to observe because of the thick clouds that frequently cover them.

The satellite will also be used to observe snow and ice conditions in polar areas, according to officials.