Japan scrubs Epsilon launch with seconds to spare

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Japan saw a last-minute launch abort on 27 August as first flight of its Epsilon launch vehicle was cancelled only seconds before ignition of the first stage solid-fuel rocket due to an attitude abnormality alert.

The alert has been traced to a .07s timing mismatch between the rocket's internal computer and the ground controller's computer. The mismatch between timing signals led the ground computer to automatically abort the launch sequence, according to Japanese space agency JAXA.

A second attempt is expected later in September, although the date is yet to be announced.

Epsilon is a three-stage, solid-fuel rocket, making the short notice of the launch abort particularly compelling: once solid fuel is ignited it cannot be shut off, unlike liquid-fuelled engines.

Epsilon is meant to replace the now-defunct M-V, using updated technology from the significantly larger H-II-series rockets.

The revised September launch plans to orbit SPRINT-A, an ultraviolet-range telescope for observing planets within the solar system. One additional launch of Epsilon is planned in 2014 with Asnaro 2, a civilian X-band radar satellite.

Japan has long had an intense interest in space, one that is expanding because of politico-economic tensions in the region. The nation uses its own launch vehicles, often carrying highly advanced satellites for military or research purposes.

As rival China expands its already large space programme and neighbouring North Korea and South Korea gain experience with space launches, Japan has come under increasing pressure to maintain its advanced missions.

Meanwhile, India's fledgling space programme received a knock on 18 August when the return-to-flight launch of its Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) was scrubbed due to a leak in the second stage's fuel system.

This was the second launch attempt for the updated GSLV II, having endured a failure in 2010. GSLV, which has undergone launch attempts six times, is itself an enlarged and refined version of the less-powerful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The leak seems to have originated from the system that supplies unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) fuel to the second stage's single Vikas engine, discovered as the tanks were being pressurised only two hours before scheduled launch.

The Vikas engine has been removed and shipped to a facility for detailed inspection, says the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

A standby Vikas engine will be integrated in the meantime, although another launch attempt is likely to wait for the findings of the inspection on the previous engine. A new flight date has not been announced.

The flight was meant to launch GSAT 14, a satellite built to test and operate indigenously built Ku- and C-band communications antennas.

India's space programme has been expanding as the nation grows wealthier and its military becomes more powerful. At least four GSLV II launches are scheduled before 2017.