Japan delays next H-IIA launch, grounding all space rockets [2023]

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced the postponement of the launch of its H-IIA rocket from May to August or later due to shared components with the H3 rocket that failed in March.

 The agency canceled the launch, which would have been the 47th mission for the H-IIA rocket, and was planned to take place at the Tanegashima Space Center. The mission’s payload included JAXA’s first lunar lander, SLIM, and a satellite with a space telescope. The postponement is a setback for Japan’s space program, which has already experienced launch failures with its other rocket types, the smaller Epsilon in October and the large H3 in March, which self-destructed after the second-stage engine failed to ignite.

 The delay highlights the technical challenges and risks associated with rocket launches, and it is unclear when either of the other rocket types will be scheduled for future launches.

The Japanese space agency is facing launch delays as both their H3 and H-IIA rockets share many components and the H3 rocket has been grounded due to a failure investigation. The H-IIA rocket was scheduled to launch in May but would have needed to start fueling in March for the SLIM lander.

However, due to the ongoing H3 investigation, there is no timetable for future launches. The delay has pushed the launch window for the moon landing mission to August or later, and it could potentially be delayed for over three months depending on the investigation’s duration.

It has been almost six months since the Epsilon launch failure, and the cause has yet to be determined. The investigation into the cause of the failure is expected to take years because the H3 rocket, which is much larger and has more parts than Epsilon, is currently under investigation. The H-IIA rocket has had an impressive track record, with only one failure out of 46 launches, resulting in a 98% success rate. Its second-stage engine has never encountered any issues before. Therefore, JAXA’s decision to expand the investigation to include the H-IIA was surprising to many, given the equipment’s proven track record.

According to aerospace engineering professor Koichi Yonemoto of Tokyo University of Science, the discovery of a critical problem with equipment that has a track record of success must have come as a shock to JAXA, forcing them to expand the investigation to the H-IIA. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been the prime contractor for H-IIA launches since 2007. The delay of the May launch has raised concerns about the impact on business, but the company has not commented on JAXA’s announcement.

The impact of the grounding of Japan’s last remaining rocket on the country’s space program cannot be overstated. Not only will plans for space exploration and scientific experiments such as lunar landings be affected, but the development of the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, a positioning system for the Asia-Oceania region led by Japan, will also be impacted. Additionally, the launch of reconnaissance and earth observation satellites may be delayed. This setback may also affect missions to supply the International Space Station.

Satellite launch demand is increasing globally, and as the U.S. entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX drives the market, Japan has been competing by developing next-generation low-cost rockets such as H3 and Epsilon, building on the accomplishments of the H-IIA. The delay in launching these rockets will impact Japan’s ability to compete in the global satellite launch market.

H-IIA Rocket Features

The H-IIA rocket is a two-stage rocket developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. It stands at 53 meters tall and has a liftoff mass of approximately 290 tons.

The first stage is powered by the LE-7A liquid rocket engine, which uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellants. The engine has a thrust of approximately 1096 kN and a burn time of 395 seconds.

The second stage is powered by the LE-5B liquid rocket engine, which also uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellants. The engine has a thrust of approximately 137.2 kN and a burn time of 420 seconds.

The rocket is capable of carrying various payloads, including satellites, probes, and cargo, into space. It has a maximum payload capacity of approximately 10,000 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and approximately 4,000 kg to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The H-IIA rocket has a 98% success rate, with only one failure out of 46 launches. It has been the primary launch vehicle for Japan’s scientific and commercial satellite launches since its first successful launch in 2005.

Leave a Comment