An innovative launch vehicle that the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has been developing since 2007 will set out for its first flight to orbit on 22 August, it has been announced.
Japanese engineers have concluded the work on the three-stage solid-fuel rocket designed to launch scientific satellites.
“The rocket uses the existing H-IIA solid rocket booster as the first stage, and an upgraded version of the upper stage of the M-V launch vehicle as the second and third stages," said Yasushiro Morita, Epsilon Launch Vehicle project manager.
The Epsilon-1 rocket is a continuation of decades of Japan’s advancement in solid-rocket studies but also presents cutting-edge technology designed to simplify the launch system. The ‘mobile launch control’ feature is arguably the most significant innovation, running as it does autonomous checks supported by artificial intelligence. This will enable the engineers to control the launch using an ordinary desktop computer.
JAXA has also managed, thanks to the autonomous checks, to simplify the rocket assembly procedure, making it possible to launch the rocket only a week after delivering the first stage on to the launch pad. Previously, almost two months were required to complete all the necessary pre-launch procedures
During its maiden flight, Epsilon-1 will carry the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A), lifting off from the Uchnora Space Centre.The SPRINT-A satellite will be the world’s first telescope in low-Earth orbit studying the planets of the solar system.
JAXA has also announced its plans to build a new rocket that would be able to launch satellites to geostationary orbit replacing the current H-IIA vehicle. The agency aims at the 2020 completion deadline as it wants to enter the prolific telecommunications satellite market the same year.