Japan’s new rocket fails after an engine problem, a blow to space ambitions

  • Destruction signal sent to missile 14 minutes into flight
  • Japan’s space agency is still hoping for a competing rocket
  • Rocket to eventually supply the planned US space station on the moon

TOKYO, March 7 (Reuters) – Japan’s new medium-lift rocket failed on its debut flight into space on Tuesday after the launcher’s second stage engine failed to ignite as planned. battle against Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The 57-meter H3 rocket, Japan’s first new model in three decades, lifted off from the Tanegashima spaceport without a hitch, according to a livestream broadcast from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

But upon reaching space, the rocket’s second stage motor failed to ignite, forcing mission officials to manually destroy the vehicle 14 minutes into flight.

“It was decided that the missile could not complete its mission, so the destroy command was dispatched,” JAXA said in a statement.

The failed attempt followed an aborted launch last month and the debris is believed to have fallen into the ocean east of the Philippines, JAXA said.

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Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka said in a statement that the government had set up a task force to investigate the “deeply regrettable” failure.

“This will have a serious impact on Japan’s future space policy, space industry and technological competitiveness,” said Hirotaka Watanabe, a professor at Osaka University with expertise in space policy.


The H3 carried the ALOS-3, a land-observation disaster management satellite, which was also equipped with an experimental infrared sensor designed to detect North Korean ballistic missile launches.

“The H3 is extremely important in securing our access to space and making sure we are competitive,” JAXA president Hiroshi Yamakawa told reporters. JAXA’s goal of bringing a competitive launcher to market was unchanged, he added.

H3 builder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (MHI) (7011.T) said it confirmed the missile situation with JAXA and did not immediately comment.

MHI has estimated that the cost per launch of the H3 will be half that of its predecessor, the H-II, enabling the company to do business within a global launch market increasingly dominated by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reusable rocket. .

A spokesperson for the company previously said it also relied on the reliability of previous Japanese missiles to conduct business.

In a report published in September, the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated the cost of a Falcon 9 launch into low Earth orbit at $2,600 per kilogram. The equivalent price tag for the H-II is $10,500.

A successful launch on Tuesday would have launched the Japanese rocket into space ahead of the planned launch later this year of the European Space Agency’s new, lower-cost Ariane 6 vehicle.

Powered by a new, simpler, lower-cost engine with 3D-printed parts, the H3 is designed to launch government and commercial satellites into orbit and carry supplies to the International Space Station.

As part of Japan’s closer cooperation with the United States in space, it will also eventually carry cargo to the Gateway lunar space station that the US space agency NASA plans to build as part of its program to return humans to the moon , including Japanese astronauts.

Shares of MHI closed 0.37% lower, while the broader Japanese reference index (.N225) rose 0.25%.

Reporting by Tim Kelly, Maki Shiraki and Rocky Swift; Additional reporting by Satoshi Sugiyama in Tokyo and Joey Roulette in Washington; Edited by Christopher Cushing and Jamie Freed

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.


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