Actually, she should be Japan's new pride: The carrier rocket H3 should transport heavy cargo into space. A surveillance satellite in the first attempt on Tuesday; three tons heavy. But a good seven minutes after the start, hope was shattered: the second rocket stage did not ignite, and those responsible had to transmit the destruction signal.
The employees of Tokyo's space agency JAXA and the missile division of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had no choice but to watch the explosion. "The destruction order was sent to H3 as there was no way to complete the mission," JAXA said after launch this Tuesday.
The blast is one of a number of failed premier flights. Elon Musk experienced this with his first rockets from the space company SpaceX, but also in Europe with the first flight of Ariane 5 in 1996, which also triggered a self-destruct mechanism.
For Japan and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the launch failure is a major setback in Tokyo's space plans. The H3 rocket, which is 57 to 63 meters high depending on the variant, is the first new development of a large launch vehicle in Japan for around 30 years. It is intended to replace the reliable H2 model. The H3 project was started ten years ago. Above all, it should be a cheap launch vehicle, because Japan wants to have a say in the space market of the future.
Tokyo recently hoped for new opportunities for its H3 model because Russia's Soyuz rockets are no longer used for western satellite transport in the context of the Ukraine war and Europe currently also has a rocket problem. In December 2022, for example, the first commercial flight of the European Vega C rocket failed. An engine component delivered from Ukraine had a material defect.
The launch of the H3 rocket has already been delayed for years, mainly due to technical problems with the newly developed first stage engine. The launch of Europe's new Ariane 6 rocket, which will be even more powerful than Japan's H3 rocket, has also been delayed by years and is now planned for the end of 2023. In order to lower the costs of the H3 rocket, the diversified, listed group Mitsubishi Heavy Industrie uses proven components and electronics from the automotive industry as well as parts from 3D printers.
Japan urgently needs the new H3 model. The rocket is intended to send large cargo capsules to the International Space Station ISS in the future. In addition, if the H3 runs smoothly, it could carry cargo to the planned Gateway space station in lunar orbit.
The satellite Alos-3 (Advanced Land Observing Satellite) was on board for land observation and disaster management during the first flight, which has now failed. There was also a military payload, such as sensors designed to detect the launch of ballistic missiles from North Korea.
It is not yet clear why the second stage of the H3 rocket did not ignite after launch from the Tanegashima spaceport in the south-west of the island kingdom. A first launch attempt of the H3 rocket a good two weeks ago had to be aborted immediately before lift-off due to voltage fluctuations in a rocket control unit.
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