A TV livestream showed smoke had already started pouring out of its main engine

Japan's H3 rocket self-destructs after failed launch

Image credit: Kyodo

The Japanese space agency (Jaxa) ordered its next-generation H3 rocket to self-destruct following a technical fault moments after lift-off.

Japan’s second attempt to launch its next-generation H3 rocket has failed, dealing a blow to the country’s space and national security programmes. 

The ¥200bn (£1.2bn) rocket self-destructed under officials' orders after the vehicle’s second-stage engine failed to ignite moments after lift-off.

The launch was meant to showcase Japan’s first new rocket in more than 20 years. Powered by a new simpler and lower-cost engine that was partly 3D-printed, the H3 rocket had been hailed as a possible competitor to SpaceX’s Falcon 9. 

Video footage of the launch showed clouds of smoke billowing as the 57-metre (187 feet) rocket lifted off without a hitch from the Tanegashima spaceport. However seven minutes into the flight, launch commentators noted that the rocket's velocity was falling.

Shortly after, mission officials confirmed they had destroyed the vehicle.

“It was decided the rocket could not complete its mission, so the destruct command was sent,” Jaxa said in a statement.

The rocket carried an Advanced Land Observation Satellite aimed at data collection for disaster response and map-making, and an experimental infrared sensor that could monitor missile launches.

The debris caused by the destruction of the rocket and its contents would have fallen into the ocean east of the Philippines, Jaxa said. 

Keiko Nagaoka, the Japanese minister for science and technology, said in a statement that the government had established a task force to investigate the “very regrettable” failure.

The H3 rocket was originally scheduled to launch on February 7th, but the mission was aborted on that day, following a separate technical fault.

“Unlike the previous cancellation and postponement, this time it was a complete failure,” said Hirotaka Watanabe, a professor at Osaka University. “This will have a serious impact on Japan’s future space policy, space business and technological competitiveness." 

The 200 billion yen (£1.2bn) H3 rocket was jointly developed by Jaxa and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a successor to the H-2A, which is due to retire in the coming years, after its milestone 50th launch.

As part of Japan’s deepening cooperation with the US in space, the H3 rocket is intended to carry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and, eventually, to the gateway lunar space station that Nasa plans to build to take humans back to the Moon

Although countries including Russia have expressed their intentions to leave the ISS, Japan recently extended its collaboration until 2030. 

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