Japan’s new flagship H3 rocket attempted to launch but was unable to achieve liftoff on Friday from Tanegashima Space Center after its airframe system detected an abnormality and its booster engines did not ignite, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.
Its maiden flight from the center in Tanegashima Island in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima had been long-anticipated after a string of delays.
“The airframe system detected an abnormality and did not send ignition signals to the boosters,” said JAXA project manager Masashi Okada in an online press conference held in the afternoon, while repeatedly saying he does not consider the launch attempt a failure.
Japan’s new flagship H3 rocket fails to lift off at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, on Feb. 17, 2023. (Kyodo)
The agency is planning to try again in one or two weeks, a government official said.
The rocket is seen as key to the country’s participation in the next generation of space development, including the U.S.-led lunar exploration program. It is hoped it will give Japan a foothold in the increasingly competitive satellite-launching business.
The H3 rocket, the first revamp of the country’s main launch vehicle in around 20 years, is due to send into orbit the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3, which is expected to become a key tool for the government’s disaster management efforts.
The rocket was originally scheduled to be launched by the end of March 2021 but the date was pushed back by around two years due to issues with the newly developed LE-9 first-stage engine and for parts replacement following an Epsilon-6 rocket launch failure in October.
The failure of that smaller rocket meant that last year marked the first time in 18 years that there was not a single successful launch of a domestically developed rocket in Japan.
JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa has vowed to make the H3 rocket “a success that will uphold Japan’s ability to access space.”
The rocket will be used not only to launch satellites and probes for government purposes but also to carry a new unmanned cargo transporter that will deliver supplies and materials to the International Space Station and Gateway, a lunar-orbiting outpost planned under the U.S.-led Artemis space program.
At 5 billion yen ($37 million), the H3 rocket costs around half as much as its predecessor H2A rocket but has 1.3 times the satellite launch capacity.
Global competition has intensified since U.S. firm SpaceX, which boasts a strong track record in rocket launches, entered the market.
Japan hopes to increase orders for satellite launches from domestic and international clients by promoting the 97.8 percent success rate of the H2A rocket, which only failed once out of 46 launches since its introduction in 2001.
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