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Japan’s Space One Kairos rocket explodes just seconds after inaugural flight

The Kairos, a small solid-fuel rocket made by Japan’s Space One, exploded shortly after its maiden launch on Wednesday as the company sought to become the first Japanese company to put a satellite into orbit.

The 59-foot-long solid-fuel rocket exploded seconds after liftoff at 11:01 a.m., leaving large smoke, fire, rocket fragments and fire-fighting water cannons near the launch pad, local media reported. This was confirmed on the live stream.

Space One said its flight was “suspended” after liftoff at the tip of western Japan’s mountainous Kii Peninsula and the situation is being investigated.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion.

Shuhei Kishimoto, the governor of the local Wakayama prefecture, told reporters that there were no injuries near the launch pad and that the fire had been extinguished.

Japan’s Space One Kairos rocket exploded seconds after liftoff during its first mission on March 13, 2024. via Reuters

Space One said the launch will be highly automated and will require about 12 staff at the ground control center.

Kairos carried a government experimental satellite that could temporarily replace a satellite in orbit if it went offline.

Space One had planned to launch Saturday, but the launch was postponed after the ship entered nearby restricted waters.

Japan is a relatively small participant in the space race, but its rocket developers are racing to be the first in space exploration. cheap vehicles This is to capture the strong demand for satellite launches from governments and customers around the world.

Tokyo-based Space One was founded in 2018 by a consortium of Japanese companies: Canon Electronics, IHI’s aerospace engineering arm, construction company Shimizu and the government-backed Development Bank of Japan.

Japan’s two largest banks, Mitsubishi UFJ Bank and Mizuho Bank, also hold minority stakes.

Space One said the launch will be highly automated and will require about 12 staff at the ground control center. AP

Canon Electronics’ stock price fell more than 9% after Wednesday’s failed launch, while IHI stock fell as much as 2%.

Space One wants to provide a “space delivery service” to domestic and international customers, and aims to launch 20 rockets a year by the late 2020s, said company president Masakazu Toyoda. The company postponed Kairos’s initial launch period four times, but said orders for second and third planned trips have been filled, including from overseas customers.

Kairos consists of three solid-fueled engine stages and a liquid-fueled rear stage engine and attempts to carry payloads of up to 551 pounds into low Earth orbit.

SpaceOne has not disclosed how much it will cost to launch Kairos, but company executive Kozo Abe said it will be “fully competitive” against U.S. rival Rocket Lab.

Space One said its flight was “suspended” after liftoff at the tip of western Japan’s mountainous Kii Peninsula and the situation is being investigated. AP
The rocket explosion was filmed Wednesday from an observation area behind a mountain in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture. AP

Rocket Lab has launched more than 40 Electron small rockets from New Zealand since 2017, at a cost of about $7 million per flight.

Several Japanese companies are using Electron for missions, including radar satellite manufacturers iQPS and Synspective and orbital debris removal startup Astroscale.

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

Space One had planned to launch Saturday, but the launch was postponed after the ship entered nearby restricted waters. AFPTV/AFP (via Getty Images)
Smoke rises from the launch site after a failed launch on March 13, 2024. AP

However, by then, JAXA had faced a number of setbacks. The first flight of H3 failed last year, and another flight of the small rocket Epsilon in 2022 also failed.

In July 2023, an improved Epsilon engine exploded at a JAXA test site.

In 2019, Interstellar Technologies launched Japan’s first privately developed rocket using the MOMO series, although it did not carry a full-scale satellite payload.

Japan is working with the United States to revitalize its domestic aerospace industry to counter technological and military competition from China and Russia.

People watch smoke rise from the Space One launch pad at the tip of the Kii Peninsula on March 13, 2024. via Reuters

The government promised last year “Comprehensive” supporta space startup with technology critical to national security, aiming to build a constellation of satellites to enhance intelligence capabilities.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense announced Friday that it has reached an agreement with Space One to increase the payload of its rockets by testing a more fuel-efficient methane engine.

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