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Japan’s Space One Kairos Rocket Explodes Seconds After Liftoff

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Japan’s Space One’s small, solid-fueled Kairos rocket detonated shortly after its initial launch on Wednesday as the business attempted to become the first Japanese company to place a satellite into orbit.

The 18-meter, four-stage solid-fuel rocket exploded seconds after liftoff just after 11.10 a.m. (0201 GMT), leaving behind a large cloud of smoke, a fire, rocket fragments, and firefighting water sprays near the launch pad, as seen on local media livestreams of the launch on the tip of the mountainous Kii peninsula in western Japan.

Space One stated that the flight was “interrupted” following the launch and that they were investigating the situation. The origin of the explosion and whether any injuries occurred were unknown at the time. During a launch, there are rarely any people near the pad. According to Space One, the launch is largely automated and only requires about a dozen people at the ground control center.

Kairos carried an experimental government spacecraft capable of temporarily replacing intelligence satellites in orbit if they go offline.

Space One had scheduled to launch on Saturday, but had to postpone it because a ship entered a nearby restricted marine region.

Despite Japan’s small size in the space race, the country’s rocket engineers are striving to construct less expensive vehicles in order to meet rising demand for satellite launches from the government and global clients.

A coalition of Japanese industries, including Canon Electronics, IHI’s aerospace engineering unit, construction giant Shimizu, and the state-backed Development Bank of Japan, founded Space One in Tokyo in 2018. Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho, Japan’s largest banks, both own minority stakes.

Canon Electronics’ shares plunged by more than 9% following Wednesday’s botched launch.

Space One postponed launch 4 times

Space One’s president, Masakazu Toyoda, stated that the company intends to offer “space courier services” to domestic and foreign clients, with the goal of launching 20 rockets per year by the late 2020s.

Although the company postponed Kairos’ initial launch window four times, it stated that orders for its second and third planned trips had been filled, including by an overseas consumer.

Space One does not disclose Kairos’ launch costs, but business president Kozo Abe claims it is “competitive enough” with American rival Rocket Lab.

Since 2017, Rocket Lab has launched more than 40 Electron mini rockets from New Zealand, costing approximately US$7 million (S$9.3 million) per flight. Several Japanese firms have employed Electron for missions, including radar satellite manufacturers iQPS and Synspective, as well as orbital debris removal startup Astroscale.

Last month, the state-funded Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched its new, cost-effective flagship rocket, the H3. JAXA accomplished a historic “pinpoint” moon landing this year, and the H3 is expected to transport approximately 20 satellites and probes into space by 2030.

In 2019, Interstellar Technologies launched Japan’s first privately developed rocket, the MOMO series, but without a full-scale satellite payload.

Japan is collaborating with the United States to revitalize its domestic aerospace industry in response to China and Russia’s technological and military rivalry.

Last year, the government promised “comprehensive” backing for space startups developing technology important to national security, as it attempts to establish satellite constellations to increase intelligence capabilities.

Japan’s defence ministry announced on Friday that it had reached an agreement with Space One to increase the payload of its rockets by experimenting with fuel-efficient methane engines.

Source: Reuters

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