Japan schedules first Epsilon space launch

Washington DC
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Japan's first Epsilon rocket will launch on 22 August, says space agency JAXA.

The Epsilon is propelled by three solid-fuel stages, based off the solid strap-on boosters that currently help power the much larger H-IIB vehicle. Epsilon is capable of delivering 1200kg into low Earth orbit.

Epsilon replaces the M-V, a larger solid-fuel rocket that failed to attract sufficient customers to remain in production. M-V's last launch was in 2002.

The August launch will carry to orbit a 320kg satellite called Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A), which will observe the atmospheres of several planets and moons in the solar system from an elliptical Earth orbit.

Japan has been ramping up its space capabilities in parallel with neighbouring nations, notably China and both North and South Korea. China has a large and highly active spaceflight programme, currently preparing to launch another crewed mission into orbit. North Korea recently launched its first satellite into orbit with mixed success: while the multi-stage rocket successfully put a satellite into orbit, the satellite was reportedly dead on arrival.

No future launch dates have been publically released. JAXA did not respond to immediate questions.