Failed H3 Rocket Launch Deals Setback to Japan’s Space Program
By: Krishna Yadav
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) experienced a setback on Friday when it aborted the inaugural launch of its next-generation H3 rocket due to an issue with the auxiliary booster engines.The rocket, which was carrying an observation satellite and an experimental sensor to detect missile launches, was set to launch from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.
The H3 rocket is Japan’s first new series in over 22 years and was developed at a cost of 200 billion yen ($1.5 billion) by JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a successor to Japan’s H-2A rocket. The rocket is designed to carry larger payloads than the H-2A, and its launch cost has been slashed by approximately half to about 50 million yen ($371,000) by simplifying its design, manufacturing, and operation.
The launch had been delayed multiple times due to poor weather and an engine development delay. However, the main engine of the H3 rocket had ignited successfully when the launch was halted due to the failure of the auxiliary booster engines to ignite. JAXA project manager Masashi Okada expressed his regret and frustration at the news conference, apologizing to those who were waiting for and looking forward to the launch. Okada described it as an aborted launch, not a failure, because it was suspended as a result of safety features that functioned properly.
Okada stated that the signal to ignite the auxiliary boosters was not sent due to an unidentified abnormality detected in the process. He believes the problem was most likely related to an electrical system in the first stage and not the engines. JAXA is investigating the cause of the issue and hopes to resolve it soon so that another launch can be attempted before the current launch window closes on March 10.
Despite this setback, Japan recognizes the importance of space to its economy and national security. Under its Basic Space Law established in 2008, Japan identified “the development and the use of outer space” as a core priority and established the Strategic Headquarters for Space Development to better prioritise the contribution of space to Japan’s economy and society. The 2008 Basic Space Law tasked the Japanese state with establishing an enabling environment to promote space development and use.
The space launch business has become increasingly competitive, with major players including SpaceX and Arianespace. Japan’s H3 rocket is expected to be a significant competitor, with its ability to carry larger payloads and its reduced launch cost. The hydrogen-fueled main engine uses fewer parts by altering the combustion method, making it a more cost-effective option for commercial customers.
The H3 rocket is carrying an Advanced Land Observation Satellite, which is tasked primarily with Earth observation and data collection for disaster response and map making. The satellite is equipped with advanced instruments for precise and detailed imaging and can detect changes in the Earth’s surface with high accuracy. Additionally, the rocket is carrying an experimental infrared sensor developed by the Defense Ministry that can monitor military activity, including missile launches.
This aborted launch marks a blow to Japan’s space program, which suffered a failed launch in October 2022 of a smaller Epsilon-series rocket. JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will need to work together to ensure that the issues with the H3 rocket are resolved so that it can become a reliable and effective option for commercial and government customers.
JAXA project manager Masashi Okada’s emotional response to the aborted launch reflects the importance of this mission to Japan’s space program and to the nation as a whole. Space exploration and development have become increasingly critical to many countries, as they recognize the potential economic, technological, and scientific benefits that can be gained from it.