The launch of Japan’s artificial-intelligence-assisted solid fuel Epsilon rocket has been scrapped early this morning threatening Japan’s ambitions to seize a larger share of the global satellite launch market.
Today’s launch attempt was already the second – last week, the first shot was cancelled due to a computer glitch.
Ready on the launch pad at Japan’s Uchinoura launch centre, the rocked failed to lift off after the count-down had been concluded – a disappointment watched by many over the Internet as the event had been broadcasted in both – English and Japanese.
According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), the launch was halted with 19 seconds left in the count-down after an “irregularity” had been detected.
Jaxa's president Naoki Okumura said the cause of the problem is under investigation and new launch date has not yet been set.
"Finding the cause is our first and foremost task," Okumura said. "We must examine what happened today, and our next launch depends on what we find out."
Space policy minister Ichita Yamamoto said the launch cancellation was unfortunate but that does not change Japan's policy to set Epsilon as a centrepiece of Japanese space business.
"I hope the cause is promptly identified and necessary measures are taken so that we can see a successful launch as soon as possible," he said.
Epsilon serves a test bed for several pioneering technologies designed to shorten the time the vehicle needs to spend on the launch pad before lift-off, enabling more frequent launches and considerable cost savings. Whereas Japan’s heavy launcher H2A requires six weeks to be assembled and prepared for take-off, preparation of Epsilon needs only a week.
Epsilon’s computer system, capable of performing automated checks, speeds up the assembly process and reduces the amount of staff needed in the control room. The launch control system is designed in a way it could be conducted using regular desktop computers. This feature should open up additional possibilities regarding the rocket’s versatility as it thus could be launched from multiple sites.
"If we hope to make the access to space much easier, more sophisticated factors are required," project manager Yasuhiro Morita said in a pre-launch statement. "We are trying to make rocket launches much simpler and ordinary events."
The 97 tonnes, 24.4m Epsilon is about half the size of Japan’s main H2A launcher. It was scheduled to carry into space the SPRINT-A solar system observing telescope.
Jaxa foresees the technology, matured during Epsilon’s development worth £27.7m , could be used in the future to upgrade H2A, which has been in service since 2001.
The Epsilon project was designed to help Japan get a bigger share of the global satellite launch market currently dominated by Russia, USA and Europe’s Ariane.