Japan destroyed its new medium-lift rocket in space on Tuesday after it failed on its debut flight due to engine problems.
The 57-metre (187ft) tall H3 rocket, Japan’s first new model in three decades, lifted off without a hitch from the Tanegashima space port, a live-streamed broadcast by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) showed.
But upon reaching space, the rocket’s second-stage engine failed to ignite, forcing mission officials to manually destroy the vehicle 14 minutes into the flight.
Also on AF: China’s Low-Earth Satellites Push in Starlink Catch-Up Bid
“It was decided the rocket could not complete its mission, so the destruct command was sent,” JAXA said in a statement.
The failed attempt followed an aborted launch last month. The debris of the rocket would have fallen into the ocean east of the Philippines, JAXA said.
Task force to investigate
The rocket’s failure dealt a blow to Japan’s efforts to cut the cost of accessing space and compete against Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Japan’s Science and Technology Minister Keiko Nagaoka said in a statement that the government had established a task force to investigate the “very regrettable” failure.
“This will have a serious impact on Japan’s future space policy, space business and technological competitiveness,” said Hirotaka Watanabe, a professor at Osaka University with expertise in space policy.
The H3 was carrying the ALOS-3, a disaster management land observation satellite. The satellite was also equipped with an experimental infrared sensor designed to detect North Korean ballistic missile launches.
“The H3 is extremely important to ensure our access to space and to ensure we are competitive,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told reporters.
JAXA’s goal of fielding a competitive launcher was unchanged, he added.
Race for a lower cost rocket
H3 builder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd said it was confirming the situation surrounding the rocket with JAXA. It declined to give an immediate comment.
MHI has estimated that the H3’s cost per launch will be half that of its predecessor, the H-II. It hopes that will help it win business in a global launch market increasingly dominated by SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket.
In a report published in September, the Center for Strategic and International Studies put the cost of a Falcon 9 launch to low-Earth orbit at $2,600 per kilogram. Meanwhile, the equivalent price tag for the H-II is $10,500.
A successful launch on Tuesday would have also put the Japanese rocket into space ahead of the of the European Space Agency’s new lower-cost Ariane 6 vehicle. It is set to launch later this year
The H3 is designed to lift government and commercial satellites into Earth orbit. It is powered by a new simpler, lower-cost engine that includes 3D-printed parts. The rocket will also ferry supplies to the International Space Station.
It will also eventually carry cargo to the US space agency NASA’s Gateway lunar space station that plans to return people to the moon, including Japanese astronauts.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena
Japan’s ispace Launches First Commercial Moon Lander
US and Japan to Discuss Major Military Moves in Washington
South Korea Joins Asian Space Race With Satellite Launch
US Looks to Deepen Space Links With Japan, South Korea
Musk’s Starlink Spurs Taiwan Satellite Internet Plan – Fortune