Japan's National Space Development Agency (NASDA) has delayed the first flight of the new H2A satellite launcher from next February to "at least July", due to a series of technical problems experienced with the uprated Mitsubishi LE-7A cryogenic first stage engine.

The H2A is intended to allow Japan to enter the commercial satellite booster market with competitive launch prices. This was not possible with the first generation H2 booster which cost about $170 million per flight.

To be competitive, the H2A needs to be able to offer launches for $100 million or under. The booster will be marketed by the Mitsubishi-led Rockjet Systems Corp.

The H2A was planned to incorporate improved and streamlined production processes to reduce costs. NASDA cancelled the H2 programme after the loss of a satellite during a failed launch in November 1999, with the agency confident that the new H2A would be flying this year. Technical problems, including propellant leaks and engine erosion, have balked the development, however.

The European Space Agency was to have flown its Artemis communications technology satellite aboard the first H2A as part of a co-operative deal, but will now have to look for another launcher. Artemis, which is to demonstrate inter-satellite communications among its suite of payloads, had already been delayed due to Japanese problems.

The H2A, which will carry 4,000kg (8,800lb) to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), the same capability as the original H2, is planned to be the first of a new generation series, the largest of which will be able to carry 7,500kg to GTO in 2004.

Source: Flight International