Japan’s ambitions to compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the commercial satellite launch market have been dealt a major setback following the failure of its H3 rocket launch on Tuesday. The rocket had to be destroyed by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) after its second-stage engine failed just minutes after liftoff from Tanegashima port. The test failure has been described as “extremely regrettable” by the government, with observers suggesting that it could have a serious impact on Japan’s future space policy, space business and technological competitiveness.
The H3 rocket is Japan’s first medium-lift rocket designed in three decades and has been presented as a cheaper alternative to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 for launching commercial and government satellites into Earth’s orbit. Engineers had aimed to send the 57 meter (187ft) rocket into space with a monitoring satellite on board and the ALOS-3 system is capable of detecting North Korean missile launches. However, Jaxa said that soon after launch, engineers were forced to send a self-destruct command to the H3 after it experienced “reduced velocity” in the second stage of its launch.
Tuesday’s launch was after an aborted launch in February, when the rocket failed to get off the launch pad due to malfunctioned rocket boosters. Unlike the previous cancellation and postponement, this time it was a complete failure, according to Hirotaka Watanabe, a space policy professor at Osaka University.
The H3 rocket was supposed to be a viable commercial alternative to the Falcon 9 rocket because it ran on a lower-cost engine with 3D-printed parts. JAXA had planned to launch the H3 around six times a year for the next two decades if the mission had succeeded. The failure has raised questions about the viability of Japan’s space program and its ability to compete with SpaceX and other global players in the commercial satellite launch market.
Impact of the failure on Japan’s space program
The failure of the H3 rocket launch is a significant blow to Japan’s efforts to deepen cooperation with the US in space and its commitment to carrying cargo to the planned Gateway lunar space station, which NASA plans to emplace to the moon’s orbit. Tokyo’s broader space program also incorporates sending people to the moon again, including Japanese astronauts.
Japan’s science minister, Keiko Nagaoka, has said that authorities will investigate the cause of the engine failure. She apologized for “failing to meet the expectations of the public and related stakeholders” and described the event as “extremely regrettable”. The setback could delay Japan’s plans to play a bigger role in space exploration and satellite launches. It also highlights the challenges of developing a viable commercial rocket program that can compete with established players like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
The failure of the H3 rocket launch is likely to lead to a reassessment of Japan’s space policy, space business and technological competitiveness. Japan has invested heavily in its space program in recent years, with the aim of becoming a leading player in the global space industry. However, the failure of the H3 rocket launch highlights the difficulties of developing a viable commercial rocket program, particularly when competing against established players like SpaceX.
The Japanese government has pledged to continue its efforts to develop a viable space program and to compete in the global satellite launch market. However, the failure of the H3 rocket launch is likely to lead to a delay in these efforts, as Japan’s space agency and government officials reassess their plans and priorities. The setback is a reminder of the challenges involved in space exploration and the risks associated with launching rockets into orbit. It also underscores the importance of cooperation and collaboration between nations in space exploration.
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