You're looking at the Japanese H-IIA Launch Vehicle pushing the ALOS (Advanced Land Observing Satellite) satellite into orbit from the Tanegashima Space Center early this morning. It contains several sensors, but especially noteworthy is the PALSAR (Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar) instrument. This is the first commercial fully-polarimetric spaceborne SAR ever to be seen. It can see through clouds during both night and day operations. It operates in L-band, which means it can see through trees.
What does this mean to me, you ask. It means that we now have a cost-effective means for monitoring terrorists and enemies operating under the trees or at night for the first time. If the Japanese are kind enough to allow us the use of their shiny new toy.
Originally designed to be launched in 2002, more can be found here, in Japanese here, and in Eurospeak here.
Note on politics. You'll notice that there's a paucity of information on this in the American press, and no news about it coming out of NASA. That's because the Japanese have taken the lead while the Americans are sitting on their duffs. But don't worry. We'll build better cars instead. Not. So we'll build bullet trains. Er, that would be the Europeans and Chinese.
The Germans are scheduled to launch a similar satellite this year, followed by the Canadians. Yes, even the Canadians are putting us to technological shame these days. No similar American satellite is even contemplated at this point. We'll be relying completely on these three allies for our monitoring needs. I guess we'll want to maintain good relations. So sit back, open a beer, and enjoy a toast to