The H3 rocket, Japan’s first new medium-lift launcher in three decades, failed to lift off on Friday. The two secondary booster engines strapped to the space vehicle’s side didn’t ignite.
The event was being live-streamed at the Tanegashima spaceport during which the rocket’s main engine got cut off after the countdown reached zero leaving the 57-meter rocket on its launch pad along the ALOS-3 land observation satellite as its payload. The observation satellite is equipped with an infrared sensor designed to detect North Korean ballistic missiles.
The cause of the apparent failure is being investigated, said the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The H3 is built to enhance Japan’s independent access to space and bolster its chances of capturing a bigger share of the global launch market from rivals, that includes Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The rocket is designed with the intention of putting government and commercial satellites into orbit and ferrying supplies to the International Space Station. Later variants will also carry cargo to the Gateway lunar space station built as a future plan of NASA to return people to the moon. This comes as a part of Tokyo’s deepening cooperation with the United States in space.
Builder and launch manager of H3, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, hopes the rocket will help in boosting its space ambitions as SpaceX’s reusable rockets shake up commercial launches, including the Falcon 9.
Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates in a September report the cost of a Falcon 9 launch to low earth orbit is $2,600 per kilogram. The equivalent price tag for H3’s predecessor is $10,500.
“With the H3 we are aiming to halve the cost per launch,” a Mitsubishi Heavy spokesperson said before the planned launch.
A successful first mission would have given an upper hand to the Japanese rocket putting it in space before the planned launch of Ariane, the European Space Agency’s new lower-cost vehicle.