Japan launches H3 rocket and destroys it following 2nd stage failure

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s space agency intentionally destroyed a new H3 rocket minutes after launch Tuesday because ignition failed for the second stage of the country’s first new series of rockets in more than two decades.

Coming three weeks after an aborted launch due to a separate issuethe failure of the H3 was a setback for Japan’s space program – and possibly its missile detection program – and a disappointment for space fans who wanted Tuesday’s retrial.

The white-headed H3 rocket lifted off and soared into blue skies from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan to cheers from fans and local residents. It followed its planned trajectory and the second stage separated as expected, but ignition failed, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.

JAXA officials apologized for the failure and said they sent an order to destroy the rocket about 14 minutes after liftoff because there was no hope it would complete its mission.

Yasuhiro Funo, JAXA’s director for launch implementation, said the second stage and its payload fell on the high seas off the eastern coast of the Philippines. He said the rocket, which would not enter the targeted orbit while carrying a lot of fuel, was unsafe and should be destroyed.

No damage or injuries were reported as a result of the destruction of the rocket or the fall of its debris.

The rocket carried an Advanced Earth Observation Satellite, or ALOS-3, tasked primarily with Earth observation and data collection for disaster response and mapping, and an experimental infrared sensor developed by the Ministry of Defense which can monitor military activity, including missile launches.

There are no plans to launch an alternative satellite to replace the previous generation of ALOS, said Katsuhiko Hara, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. He did not say if or how the delay could affect disaster and missile detection capability.

The failure is the second in six months since a small Epsilon-series solid-fuel rocket designed to launch science satellites failed in October..

The launch of the H3 had also been delayed for over two years due to delayed engine development. During a February launch attempt, an electrical problem after the main engine had ignited aborted the launch just before liftoff and narrowly saved the rocket.

Further delay is expected, but JAXA officials said analyzing the malfunction and restoring trust comes first.

“Our top priority is to do everything we can to find the cause and regain confidence in our rockets,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said at a joint press conference. “We need to figure out what we need to do to make the next launch successful.”

Yamakawa said global competitiveness is always important. “Delays and additional costs are both burdens, but we will achieve global global competitiveness from a cost and convenience perspective of satellite delivery.”

The H3 rocket – the first new Japanese series in more than 22 years – was developed at a cost of 200 billion yen ($1.47 billion) by JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a successor to the Japanese H-rocket. 2A, which is due to retire after its next 50th launch.

The H3, approximately 60 meters (196 ft) long, can carry larger payloads than the 53-meter (174 ft) H-2A. But its launch cost has been roughly halved to around 50 million yen ($368,000) by simplifying its design, manufacture and operation in a bid to win more commercial launch customers. The hydrogen fueled main engine is newly developed and uses fewer parts by changing the combustion method.

The space launch business has become increasingly competitive, with major players such as SpaceX and Arianespace.


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