Japan's fledgling space programme was set back last week by the crash of a model unmanned spaceplane in Sweden after its parachute recovery system failed to fully activate.

The National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) says the High Speed Flight Demonstration (HSFD) vehicle crash-landed on 1 July, 4km (2.5 miles) from the intended recovery point. The vehicle's port wing broke off during the hard landing.

NAL and Japan's National Space Development Agency (NASDA) blame the crash on a yet-to-be-determined malfunction to the recovery system that should have guided the vehicle to a landing using parachutes. But NAL says the drogue chute and main chute failed to activate. Airbags designed to absorb the touchdown shock also failed to activate. The pilot chute, however, did activate for the landing. The two agencies have delayed all future experiments, pending the close of the crash investigation.

The test flight began at about 98,000ft (30,000m) after the vehicle was released from a stratospheric balloon operated by France's Space Research Agency CNS.

The vehicle is a 500kg (1,100lb), 2.7m-long, 25% scale model of the proposed Hope-X reusable unmanned spaceplane. NAL and NASDA are developing Hope-X and are overseeing the HSFD project to verify potential technologies that could be used to support the re-entry phase of space flight.

Source: Flight International