JAXA’s second attempt at launching the H3 rocket has ended up becoming a major setback for Japan’s space ambitions. While the rocket was able to leave the launch pad, the country’s space authorities were forced to activate its flight termination system a few minutes later after its second stage engine failed to ignite. In an announcement, JAXA said the self-destruct command was transmitted to the rocket at 10:52 AM Japan time (8:52PM ET) “because there was no possibility of achieving the mission.” The agency is still investigating the incident to figure out what went wrong.
The H3 was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries after the program was first approved in 2013, and it cost the country over 200 billion yen ($1.5 billion). JAXA was hoping to launch the rocket in 2020 — and it did complete a functional test for the H3 that year — but had to delay its inaugural flight due to engineering problems. Its first actual launch attempt on February 17th this year was aborted before the vehicle was able to lift off due to an electrical interference issue in the first stage.
According to Nikkei Asia, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sees the H3 as “crucial to the nation’s business and national security ambitions.” It was created to put a lot more Japanese surveillance satellites in orbit and to become the key component of a business that will offer launch services to clients. JAXA and Mitsubishi were apparently able to halve its original launch costs to $50 million, which they believed is lower than the launch costs of SpaceX’s Falcon 9. In the future, it’s also expected to ferry cargo to support the NASA Artemis program’s Lunar Gateway project.
The destroyed H3 rocket was carrying ALOS-3, a satellite with disaster management tools that can be quickly deployed to observe affected areas. Reuters says it was also equipped with an experimental infrared sensor that was created with the ability to detect North Korean ballistic missile launches