Japanese space agency JAXA has successfully launched the first Epsilon rocket, following a last-minute abort during a previous attempt.
The launch took place from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima prefecture. The payload – a scientific satellite dubbed Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for the Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) – was deployed about an hour after launch.
SPRINT-A is an ultraviolet telescope, which will examine other solar system bodies from Earth orbit.
The earlier attempt, on 27 August, was automatically scrubbed only seconds before launch due to a .07s mismatch in signal timing between the onboard flight computer and the controller’s ground computer.
Epsilon is a three-stage solid-fuel rocket, capable of launching 1,200kg (2,650lb) into low Earth orbit. The rocket was built to replace the similar but aged and significantly more expensive M-V system, which has not been launched since 2006.
Epsilon’s first stage is adapted from the solid-fuel boosters used to help propel the much larger H-II series off the launchpad, while the second and third stages are adapted from the M-V.
A further iteration of Epsilon, capable of launching a greater payload into orbit using a fourth stage, is in the works for a planned 2017 launch.
Japan has a robust space portfolio, also operating the H-II series – used to launch resupply capsules to the International Space Station, and research and military satellites. It is a crucial partner in the International Space Station and supplies both a module and occasionally astronauts to the programme.
Japan has been building up its space portfolio as it faces growing regional competition.
China in particular presents both an economic and military threat to the nation, and has a highly developed space programme, routinely conducting satellite launches and putting astronauts into orbit.
China’s plans are nothing if not ambitious. The nation is one of only three to have a well-developed human spaceflight programme, and plans to operate everything from large space stations to unmanned interplanetary probes.
North Korea, another rival, launched its first payload into orbit in December 2012. Although the payload, a very basic satellite, was deemed unresponsive by outside observers, more launches are expected in the future.
South Korea, a nominal ally of Japan, is also launching its own rockets.
The Epsilon may open up the commercial launch market to Japan, which it has previously been priced out of.
Source: Flight International