Japan suspends satellite rocket launch at last minute (Update)

Aug 27, 2013
JAXA's Epsilon rocket stands on a launching pad at the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima on August 27, 2013. Japan suspended the launch of its next-generation solid-fuel rocket on Tuesday just seconds before lift-off after engineers discovered a technical glitch, the space agency said.

Japan suspended the launch of its next-generation solid-fuel rocket on Tuesday just seconds before lift-off after engineers discovered a technical glitch.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had planned to launch the Epsilon rocket from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Kagoshima, southwestern Japan, using just two laptop computers in a pared-down command centre.

But the countdown was automatically halted just 19 seconds before blast-off "as an emergency measure due to some abnormal positioning" of the rocket, a JAXA spokeswoman said.

It was not clear if this was a physical problem or a data error, she added.

"We cancelled today's launch and can't say anything about the timing of our next launch, as the cause of the trouble is still unknown," the spokeswoman said.

Ichita Yamamoto, cabinet minister in charge of space technology, urged the agency swiftly to relaunch the rocket, which Japan hopes will become competitive in the global space business.

"The cancellation was very regrettable," Yamamoto told a joint news conference with JAXA executives near the launch pad.

"But this rocket must be launched successfully," he said. "As the minister of space policies, I strongly hope JAXA will pursue the cause and realise the launch."

Parents and children had gathered in public spaces throughout Japan to watch the launch live.

Television news footage showed audiences in theatres emitting sounds of puzzlement in unison when the appointed launch time passed without any lift-off.

The three-stage Epsilon—24 metres (79-feet) long and weighing 91 tonnes—was scheduled to release the telescope "SPRINT-A" at an altitude of 1,000 kilometres (620 miles).

SPRINT-A is the world's first space telescope for remote observation of planets including Venus, Mars and Jupiter from its orbit around Earth, the agency said.

The Epsilon is about half the size of the nation's liquid-fuelled H2-A rocket, and a successor to the solid fuel M-5 rocket that was retired in 2006 due to its high cost.

The small-sized rocket is equipped with artificial intelligence "for the first time in the world" that allows autonomous checks by the rocket itself, JAXA said.

"It also allows us to carry out launching procedures, including ignition, through only two laptop computers," another JAXA spokeswoman said.

At the control centre only eight workers were engaged in the launch operation, compared with some 150 people usually needed when JAXA launches its mainstream H2-A rocket.

The agency has halved the production and launching cost to 3.8 billion yen ($37 million) from that of the previous M-5.

"Catching troubles before the launch means the entire system is still under control," said Tetsuya Hanyu, a researcher at Mitsubishi Research Institute's science and technology group.

"But it may take some time to relaunch it if the trouble is found to be serious enough to require the replacement of major parts, for instance," Hanyu said.

Explore further: Cassini: Return to Rhea

Related Stories

Japan to launch space cargo mission Saturday

Jan 21, 2011

Japan's space agency said it would launch a rocket on Saturday to deliver more than five tons of supplies to the International Space Station, after an earlier postponement. ...

Bad weather postpones Japan rocket launch

May 18, 2010

Japan on Tuesday postponed the launch of a rocket due to deploy a Venus probe and an experimental "space yacht" propelled by solar particles, because of bad weather at the launch site.

Recommended for you

Total lunar eclipse before dawn on April 4th

4 hours ago

An unusually brief total eclipse of the Moon will be visible before dawn this Saturday, April 4th, from western North America. The eclipse happens on Saturday evening for Australia and East Asia.

Cassini: Return to Rhea

17 hours ago

After a couple of years in high-inclination orbits that limited its ability to encounter Saturn's moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returned to Saturn's equatorial plane in March 2015.

Comet dust—planet Mercury's 'invisible paint'

Mar 30, 2015

A team of scientists has a new explanation for the planet Mercury's dark, barely reflective surface. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers suggest that a steady dusting of carbon from p ...

It's 'full spin ahead' for NASA soil moisture mapper

Mar 30, 2015

The 20-foot (6-meter) "golden lasso" reflector antenna atop NASA's new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory is now ready to wrangle up high-resolution global soil moisture data, following the successful ...

What drives the solar cycle?

Mar 30, 2015

You can be thankful that we bask in the glow of a relatively placid star. Currently about halfway along its 10 billion year career on the Main Sequence, our sun fuses hydrogen into helium in a battle against ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.