Japan’s new medium-payload rocket failed on its debut flight in space on Tuesday after the launcher’s second-stage engine failed to fire as planned, in a blow to its efforts to reduce the cost of access to space. space and compete against Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The 187-foot-tall H3 rocket lifted off smoothly from the Tanegashima spaceport, a live broadcast from 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.
“It was decided that the rocket could not complete its mission, so the destroy command was sent,” said a commentator on the JAXA launch broadcast. “So what happened? It’s something we’ll have to investigate by looking at all the data.”
The failed attempt followed an aborted launch last month.
“Unlike the previous cancellation and postponement, this time it was a complete failure,” said Hirotaka Watanabe, an Osaka University professor with experience in space policy.
“This will have a serious impact on Japan’s future space policy, space business and technology competitiveness,” he added.
Japan’s first new rocket in three decades carried ALOS-3, an Earth observation satellite for disaster management, which was also equipped with an experimental infrared sensor designed to detect North Korean ballistic missile launches.
The H3 maker, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said it was confirming the situation around the rocket with JAXA and had no immediate comment.
MHI has estimated that the H3’s cost per launch will help that of its predecessor, the H-II, helping it win business in a global launch market increasingly dominated by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reusable rocket.
A company spokesman said earlier that it was also relying on the reliability of Japan’s previous rockets to win business.
In a report published in September, the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated the cost of launching a Falcon 9 into low-Earth orbit at $2,600 per kilogram. The equivalent price for the H-II is $10,500.
A successful launch on Tuesday would have put the Japanese rocket into space ahead of the planned launch later this year of the European Space Agency’s new low-cost Ariane 6 vehicle.
Powered by a new, simpler, lower-cost engine that includes 3D-printed parts, the H3 is designed to bring government and commercial satellites into Earth orbit and transport supplies to the International Space Station.
As part of Japan’s deepening cooperation with the United States in space, it will also eventually transport cargo to the Lunar Gateway space station that the US space agency, NASA, plans to build as part of its program to return people to the Moon. , including Japanese astronauts.