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World's first greenhouse-gas monitoring satellite launched

Japan fired the world's first greenhouse-gas monitoring satellite into space today, a launch deemed crucial in the country's quest to compete globally in putting commercial satellites into orbit.

The black, white and orange H2A rocket took off from the space center on Tanegashima, a remote island in southern Japan. The launch -- the 15th for an H2A -- had been delayed for several days because of bad weather.

Aboard the rocket was the world's first greenhouse-gas monitoring satellite called "Ibuki," which means "breath," and seven "baby satellites" -- one developed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as JAXA, and six created by university research centers and private industry.

The development cost for the greenhouse-gas monitoring satellite was 18.3 billion yen (US$206 million), the government space agency said.

A successful launch was seen as crucial to Japan, which is trying to demonstrate that it has the capabilities with its domestically developed H2A rocket to 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 niche in the global rocket-launching business, which is dominated by Russia, the US and Europe's Arianespace.

JAXA says the latest launch itself cost about 8.5 billion yen (US$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. They will be launched for free, but JAXA is considering charging a launch fee in the future.

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


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