Japan’s space agency says an unmanned rocket carrying satellites had to be aborted with a self-destruct command minutes after takeoff from the Uchinoura Space Center in the southern Japanese prefecture of Kagoshima.
The failure of the Epsilon-6 rocket on Wednesday, which was not in the right position to orbit the Earth and had to be aborted less than seven minutes into its flight, marks Japan’s first failed rocket launch in almost 20 years.
“We deeply apologise for our failure to live up to the expectations,” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) President Hiroshi Yamakawa told an online news conference after the mission was aborted.
Yamakawa pledged to assist in the investigation into the cause of the failure.
Japan’s NHK broadcaster said expectations were high that Wednesday’s flight to carry commercial satellites into space would pave the way for the space agency’s entry into the growing satellite business.
Japan's space agency says an attempted launch of its Epsilon-6 rocket failed on Wednesday morning.https://t.co/7ovNdAnJb5
— NHK WORLD News (@NHKWORLD_News) October 12, 2022
JAXA’s Yasuhiro Funo, who led the project, explained that a technical issue was detected before the third – and final – stage of the launch, just as the last powerful booster was about to be ignited.
“We ordered the rocket’s destruction because if we cannot send it into the orbit that we planned, we don’t know where it will go,” he said, leading to safety concerns about where the space vehicle could fall.
JAXA officials said the agency sent a self-destruction signal after deciding the rocket was not able to fly safely and enter a planned orbit. The rocket and payloads were believed to have fallen into the sea east of the Philippines, officials said.
The Epsilon rocket was carrying eight payloads, including two developed by a private company based in Fukuoka, another southern prefecture. It was the first time an Epsilon rocket carried commercially developed payloads.
The 26-metre (85-foot), 95.6-tonne and solid-fuel Epsilon-6 rocket was the final version before JAXA plans to develop another variation, Epsilon-S.
A commercial launch under the upgraded Epsilon-S, by IHI Aerospace, a Japanese company, is being planned for a Vietnamese satellite next year.
Japan’s space programme is one of the world’s largest, and last week JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata flew to the International Space Station as part of the Crew-5 mission.
JAXA has been in the spotlight after its mission to the asteroid Ryugu by a space probe named Hayabusa-2, which collected pristine material from the celestial body that is now being analysed for clues to the origins of life.
Wednesday’s failed launch was originally scheduled for last Friday but had been delayed due to the location of a positioning satellite in space.