Japan's new H3 rocket fails to launch


Japan’s first H3 rocket could not be launched as scheduled Friday due to ignition issues, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said. The new rocket was to have lifted off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture at 10:37 a.m.

The main engine ignited, but the solid rocket boosters did not, JAXA said. The space agency and related bodies are investigating the cause and the launch may be set back some time depending on the findings.

“We don’t know much yet and it’s expected to take a while [to determine the cause],” JAXA’s press and media head Akitaka Kishi told reporters. “The rocket didn’t launch, so we’re not deeming it a failure, though it’s no longer possible to launch today.”

“We are sorry and we also are disappointed,” JAXA’s H3 rocket project manager Masashi Okada said at a press conference on Friday afternoon. “We’ll do our best” to determine the cause.

Okada stopped short of specifying a new schedule or any prospects of the rocket’s launch.

The H3 is regarded as the successor to the current H2A mainstay rocket. It is the first time in 22 years for the nation to revamp a large domestic rocket. With the H3, Japan hopes to spearhead the global satellite launch market by reducing costs and enhancing launch capability. However, the aborted takeoff means the effort is off to a shaky start.

In October, the Epsilon-6 solid-fuel rocket failed upon launch and a self-destruct signal was sent. The sixth H2A rocket also failed to blast off in 2003.

Two solid rocket boosters — 2.5 meters in diameter and 15 meters long — were to have supplemented the H3’s launch. The boosters, which are attached to the first-stage engine, should have ignited on signal after main engine ignition and adequate thrust were confirmed.

“It’s possible there was insufficient engine thrust or problems with transmitting the signal to the solid rocket boosters,” said Ko Ogasawara, a former chief engineer at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and a Tokyo University of Science professor who has been involved in the H3’s evolution.

The H3 is the result of a joint undertaking by JAXA, MHI and other entities that began in 2014. The rocket is 57 meters long and 5.2 meters in diameter. About ¥206 billion has been poured into the project to date. The H3 was loaded with the government’s Earth observation satellite Daichi-3, which is designed to be used for such purposes as assessing damage in the event of a disaster.

The H3 is 30% more effective than the H2A with regard to injecting a satellite into a specific orbit and can accommodate variously sized satellites. Development costs were slashed through such initiatives as automating inspections and using lower-priced automotive parts for 90% of the rocket’s electronic components. To compete in the global satellite market, the development consortium strove to reduce the H3’s launch cost to about ¥5 billion — half that of the H2A.

The H3 was initially slated to launch in fiscal 2020. However, this plan was pushed back twice due to problems that included cracks and abnormal vibrations in the main engine. To address these issues JAXA redesigned the engine, among other steps. The final test of the H3’s rocket engine in November produced positive results. 

The Japan News

Asia News Network