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Japan’s private rocket “KAIROS” fails in first launch, explodes seconds after liftoff

KAIROS Rocket fails at launch

The small solid-fuel rocket “KAIROS,” developed and manufactured by the Japanese aerospace start-up company “SPACE ONE,” exploded a few seconds after its first launch on Wednesday (March 13). Space One is trying to become the first Japanese company to put a satellite into orbit.

The 18-meter-long (about 60-foot) four-section rocket carrying a small government test satellite was in mid-air about five seconds after launch at 11:01 a.m. local time (02:01 GMT).

Explosion Rocket fragments fell into nearby mountains and oceans, causing forest fires. Hours later, Wakayama Prefecture Governor Kishi Subuhei said the fire had been put out and no one was injured.

“Space One” said in a statement that after the launch, “measures were taken to abort the flight” and the details were being investigated. “Space One” has set up a working group to investigate the cause in detail by analyzing the data sent by the rocket.

Masakazu Toyoda, the president of Space One, held a press conference and bowed to apologize for the launch failure. “We deeply apologize for not meeting expectations, but we have no intention of giving up. We want to identify the cause and ensure measures to prevent a recurrence, so we can be ready for the next launch as soon as possible.”

Japanese aerospace engineering expert Akira Sawaoka said the explosion was quite similar to the Epsilon S solid-fuel rocket (Epsilon S) that exploded during a test last July. He believed this was a unique situation for solid rockets.

According to “Space One,” the launch process of the rocket is highly automated, including the functions of automatic destruction and flight termination.

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Space One was originally scheduled to launch on Saturday (March 9), but was postponed after a ship entered nearby restricted waters.

Although Japan is a relatively small player in the space race, the country’s rocket developers are scrambling to build cheaper vehicles to meet the booming demand for satellite launches from governments and other international customers.

The goal is a “space express service”

“Space One” is headquartered in Tokyo and was established in 2018 by a consortium of Japanese companies, including Canon Electronics (Canon), aviation engine developer IHI, Shimizu Construction, and the Development Bank of Japan. Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho Bank also hold minority stakes.

After the launch failure, Canon’s stock price fell 13%, and IHI’s stock price fell 2%.

The company focuses on “space express services” and hopes to use the characteristics of solid fuel rockets to achieve a more flexible launch plan with a shorter preparation time and low cost. The company aims to launch 20 rockets per year by the end of the 2020s.

This corporate strategy is based on the growing global demand for commercial satellite launches. Although Space One did not disclose the launch cost of “KAIROS,” company executives revealed that it is “sufficiently competitive” compared with American competitor Rocket Lab.

Orders for the second and third planned trips of “KAIROS” have been completed, including an overseas customer.

Two months ago, the state-funded Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched its probe dubbed “Moon Sniper” to complete a historic “precision” moon landing. However, before that, JAXA also encountered a series of setbacks.

Japan, in collaboration with the United States, is actively engaged in rejuvenating its domestic aerospace sector to mitigate technological and military challenges posed by China and Russia. Notably, the Japanese government has committed to providing comprehensive backing to space startups and is in the process of establishing a satellite monitoring network to bolster its intelligence capabilities.

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