Japan’s Space One rocket explodes shortly after launch

Japan’s Space One rocket explodes shortly after launch
Japan’s Space One rocket explodes shortly after launch

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - TOKYO — Space One’s ‘Kairos’ rocket burst into flames shortly after lift-off in western Japan on Wednesday.

The explosion left a large plume of smoke in the air and sent fiery debris flying near the launchpad.

The Tokyo start-up was racing to become Japan’s first private company to put a satellite into orbit.

The startup company had hoped of becoming the first private entity in Japan to put a satellite in orbit. However, its attempt ended in a fiery explosion, mere seconds after liftoff at 11 a.m. local time.

Space One director Mamoru Endo told reporters at a conference that the rocket’s automated system detected an anomaly five seconds after liftoff and triggered its self-destruct function.

The company has yet to figure out what that anomaly is and will be investigating the incident for answers.

Kairos was carrying payload for the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center, which collects and analyzes imagery information for the Japanese government.

That satellite was supposed to be an alternative to an existing Japanese satellite monitoring military facilities in and rocket launches from North Korea.

Masakazu Toyoda, the company’s president, said during the conference that Space One is “prepared to take up the next challenge.”

This was a major setback for Japan’s space development aspirations. The 18-meter, 23-ton Kairos rocket was carrying a mock-up of a government spy satellite.

The rocket exploded in midair five seconds after launch, with its remains falling onto a nearby mountainous area.

Space One executives said they are investigating the cause of the explosion, but remained committed to the startup’s goal of undertaking 20 liftoffs a year by the end of 2029 and 30 liftoffs in the 2030s.

“We will find out the cause as soon as possible and clarify our measures to prevent a recurrence,” Toyoda told a news conference in Nachi, Wakayama Prefecture.

“Through such steps, we will resume our launches, aim to realize small rocket launch services and contribute to the further expansion of space services.”

Wednesday’s launch followed a last-minute postponement Saturday, when the firm detected a ship in nearby waters off the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula just 10 minutes before liftoff.

The startup had initially aimed to conduct its first rocket launch in fiscal 2021, but was forced to postpone it five times, citing delays in the procurement of parts amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May 2019, Hokkaido-based Interstellar Technologies sent Japan’s first privately developed rocket into space, but that rocket was not carrying a satellite payload.

Last month, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency succeeded in launching its next-generation H3 rocket, providing a much-needed boost to the nation’s satellite-launching and space exploration ambitions after the failure of its first model nearly a year ago.

Space One was set up in July 2018, with an all-Japan alliance that includes Canon Electronics, IHI Aerospace and general contractor Shimizu putting up capital.

It aims to help shift the nation’s satellite launch services from the public sector to the private.

The firm has said it hopes to offer a “space parcel delivery” service, catering to rising demands among international and private-sector businesses to send small satellites into orbit quickly and more frequently.

Globally, the number of successful satellite launches has surged tenfold over the past decade, to hit a record 2,368 in 2022, according to the Cabinet Office.

SpaceX’s Starlink constellation satellites accounted for 1,632 of the launches, dwarfing other constellation networks and government satellites. — Agencies

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