Japan rocket launch cancelled

Tuesday 27 August 2013 20.24
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (Jaxa) new solid fuel rocket Epsilon stands on a launching pad at Jaxa's Uchinoura Space Center at Kimotsuki town in Kagoshima
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (Jaxa) new solid fuel rocket Epsilon stands on a launching pad at Jaxa's Uchinoura Space Center at Kimotsuki town in Kagoshima

Japan's first new rocket in 12 years failed to lift off, dealing a potential blow to the hope that Japan may be able to take a larger share of the growing, multi-billion dollar satellite launch industry.

It was the second setback for the Epsilon rocket this month.

An earlier launch was postponed because of a computer glitch. No word was available on the cause of the problem this morning or when the launch might be tried again.

The countdown at Japan's Uchinoura launch centre was broadcast live over the internet, with commentary in Japanese and English.

But nothing happened at the end of the countdown.

JAXA, Japan's space agency, later said the launch was halted with 19 seconds to go. Japanese media said an "irregularity" had been detected.

A three-stage rocket, the Epsilon - named for the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet - is 24.4m high, about half the size of Japan's workhorse H2A rocket.

It weighs 91 tonnes and has been touted as a new, low-cost alternative.

The rocket was scheduled to carry a telescope into space for observation of the solar system.

Analysts said it was not clear how much of an impact the failure would have on Japan's ambitions to cash in on the international satellite launch industry.

"This was the first flight and it was already postponed once and now will be postponed again," said Yukihiro Kumagai, an analyst at Jefferies & Co securities in Tokyo.

"Inevitably, this will raise some questions, but overall it is unlikely to have much influence," he added, noting that the Epsilon is not scheduled for another flight until 2015.

The rocket's smaller size and a computer system that allows it to perform its own system checks means it can be assembled quickly, which is expected to cut both personnel and equipment costs.

Launch control can be carried out using conventional desktop computers, greatly reducing costs and making the launches more mobile since they could take place at more sites.

US companies had a monopoly on the commercial launch business 30 years ago, but their hold has steadily declined, with most of the business going to the France-based Arianespace, a public-private European partnership that reported revenue of €1.3bn in 2012.

The market has been shaken up by the recent entry of the California-based Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX.

Russia also markets a variety of rockets for space launches.

Its workhorse Soyuz spaceships have been the only vehicles delivering crews to the ISS since the US space shuttle fleet was retired from service in 2011.

India and China also provide launch services to some extent.