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Friday, April 19, 2024

Japan cancels its flagship H3 rocket launch just before takeoff

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Moments before the H3 vehicle was supposed to launch on Friday, Japan aborted the launch of its first new medium-lift rocket in three decades because the secondary booster engines mounted to its side failed to ignite.

After the launch countdown reached zero during the live broadcast, the H3’s main engine shut off, leaving the 57-meter (187-foot) rocket on the ground at the Tanegashima spaceport along with its payload, the ALOS-3 land observation satellite, which also has an infrared sensor to detect North Korean ballistic missiles.

Masashi Okada, the H3 project manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), wiped away tears and said, “A lot of people have been following our progress and we are really sorry.”

It really irks me, he said.

Before the end of March, JAXA planned to make a second attempt, according to Okada.

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Japan developed the H3 to improve its independence in accessing space and to increase its chances of stealing market share from rivals like Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

It is intended to deliver supplies to the International Space Station and launch government and private satellites into orbit.

Later versions will also transport cargo to the Gateway lunar space station, which NASA plans to build as part of its program to send astronauts back to the moon, as part of Japan’s expanding cooperation with the United States in space.

Japan has been promised a spot on one of America’s crewed lunar missions.

The H3’s builder and launch manager, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T), hopes the rocket will advance its aspirations for space as SpaceX revolutionizes commercial launches with its reusable rockets, such as the Falcon 9.

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The cost of a Falcon 9 launch to low earth orbit was estimated at $2,600 per kilogram in a September report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The H-II, the H3’s predecessor, costs the same amount ($10,500).

Before the scheduled launch, a Mitsubishi Heavy spokesperson stated, “With the H3, we are aiming to halve the cost per launch.”

A successful first mission would have launched the Japanese rocket into orbit before the European Space Agency’s new, less expensive Ariane vehicle, which is scheduled to launch this year.

The unsuccessful launch is a blow to Japan’s emerging renaissance in space exploration and industry.

The world’s first commercial lunar lander was successfully launched by Japan’s iSpace in December, and lunar flyby pioneer Yusaku Maezawa unveiled the personnel who would participate in the mission.

But since both projects rely on SpaceX rockets and Russian rockets are no longer available, Japan is under pressure to create its own delivery system in order to accomplish its space objectives.

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In their discussions last month in Washington, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden focused heavily on space exploration and defense.

The H3 remained essential for “strengthening Japan’s autonomy and international cooperation in space activities,” according to the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and the government did not believe the failed launch would have an impact on space policy.

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