Tim Furniss/LONDON

Japan will attempt the long-delayed maiden flight of the upgraded H2A booster carrying a Vehicle Evaluation Payload (VEP), from Tanegshima on 22 July.

A second test flight is tentatively planned for December, carrying a Mission Demonstration Satellite and another VEP.

The first operational flight of the H2A will be made next February, carrying the Advanced Earth Observation Satellite Adeos 2 and three piggyback satellites - Australia's FedSat 1 and two national payloads, Micro-LabSat 1 and the Whale Ecology Observation Satellite.

Technical problems have thwarted H2A development, delaying its maiden flight by a year.

The new booster is based on the original H2, but is intended to be more cost-effective and efficient. From 1994 the H2 flew five successful missions and suffered two consecutive failures. The H2 was cancelled in 1999 as it was considered to be too expensive, offering commercial geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) missions at a cost of $180 million - almost double that charged by other commercial launcher companies.

The H2A, equipped with upgraded LE-5A and 7A first and second stage engines and new solid rocket boosters, will replicate the 4,000kg to GTO capability of the H2. More powerful versions of the H2A featuring extra boosters and strap-on core stages will increase this capability to 7,500kg.

Meanwhile, Aerojet has been awarded a $480,000 contract extension to continue design and studies for a new first stage engine for Japan's upgraded J-1 commercial low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite launch vehicle. The original J-1, an indigenously developed three stage solid-propellant vehicle, was cancelled due to high costs after just one launch.

The first stage of the J1-A will be powered by a modified Russian NK-33 liquid propellant engine, which has already been altered by Aerojet to fly on the US Kistler reusable launch vehicle. The booster will also be equipped with a liquid second stage engine.

Japan will require the J1A for 1t LEO sun-synchronous orbit launches and other LEO flights.

The latest contract pushes funding to $2.9 million and allows the start of development. Configuration studies will be completed by the middle of the year.

Source: Flight International