SpaceOne Rocket Launch in Japan Crashes

Failure to launch

Space One, a Tokyo-based private firm established in 2018, attempted to launch a rocket carrying a Japanese government satellite today, March 13th. At around 11:01 am local time, it blew up about five seconds after liftoff. The rocket took off in Kushimmoto, Wakayama Prefecture, Western Japan, at Space Port Kii. The rocket was destroyed, and the government-supplied satellite was also assumed to have shattered.

A photo of the explosion. (Photo – Kyodo News via Associated Press)

No injuries at this time are reported, as the launch pad was clear of people, and only a crew of a dozen or so personnel was required to facilitate the launch. The pad itself also seemed to escape receiving any damage. Local firefighters were sent to the scene, along with police. Dozens of spectators were present from all over Japan.

The launch was originally set for last Saturday, however, it was delayed after a vessel entered the part of the ocean required to be clear due to safety reasons. You can read further about that here. Interesting to note, the company had plans in March of 2022 to conduct the first launch but were postponed due to the pandemic along with logistical reasons. 

Space One President Masakazu Toyoda has commented on the matter at a press conference, although did not refer to this as a “failure,” saying:

“We sincerely apologize for not living up to expectations,”…”Space One refuses to use the word ‘failure,’ as we believe that we can gain new data and experiences through each and every attempt.”

Space One has assigned a task force to investigate the cause of the crash.

The Rocket 

The Kairos rocket was an 59-foot (18m) powered by three solid-propellant lower stages and an upper stage consisting of a liquid propellant upper stage. Carrying a payload of 330lbs (150kg) for a sun-synchronous orbit, and 551lbs (250kg) to a 33-degree incline orbit. The Kairos carried an experimental government satellite for use by the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) planned to be put into orbit that can temporarily take the place of other intelligence satellites should they go offline for any given reason.

Photo of the rocket at the previously cancelled launch. (Photo – Kyodo News)

Analysis

The cause of the crash is pending investigation, as there could be several reasons. As noted, the flight termination system was tripped, which many rockets have in place to destroy or disable parts of the rocket in case of emergency. Although this launch did not succeed in its objective, lessons learned from this event can carry over to future planned launches, and lead to improvements in design, software, performance, among other things.

This launch, should it have gone successfully, would’ve marked the first time a Japanese private firm launched a rocket into space. Japan is considered a minor player in the space market, however, subsequent launches by Space One will improve Japan’s space aspirations. By meeting these goals, it will make Japan more competitive in space travel and exploration to compete with nations with similarly sized and structured space programs such as India and South Korea.

Foreign investment into private Japanese companies like Space One will undoubtedly increase if future launches prove successful.

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Evan Berridge
Evan Berridge
Aspiring writer and analyst of mostly Indo-Pacific affairs, began in January 2024.
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