The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was forced to abort the first-ever launch attempt of its powerful new H3 rocket on Feb. 16 after secondary booster engines failed to ignite—the latest in a series of delays that have plagued the rocket project. The test flight was conducted at Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center and was expected to send a satellite into orbit. The 187-foot rocket remained on the ground along with the ALOS-3 land observation satellite, which could be used to detect North Korean ballistic missiles.
Masashi Okada, a project manager at JAXA, said in an online press conference that an onboard system detected an abnormality and did not send ignition signals to the boosters. Okada noted that the rocket’s safety features had worked as intended and that it was difficult to call it a failure. The rocket’s launch was originally scheduled for 2020, but was postponed due to a delay in engine development. It was then set for late 2022, but was again postponed due to issues with the main engine. This month, the launch was set for five days earlier, but was delayed twice due to weather issues.
JAXA has high hopes for the H3, which is designed to be cost-effective. The space agency has been cooperating with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and developing the rocket for a decade. The newly-developed main engine of H3 has fewer parts due to an alteration made to the combustion method which replaced most of the rocket components with auto parts. It is designed to send satellites into orbit and transport supplies to the International Space Station (ISS).
The H3 rocket aims to boost Japan’s access to space and improve its share in the global launch market, helping it compete with rivals like Elon Musk’s SpaceX. It is set to mark its 50th launch in the coming years and is estimated to cut down launch costs by around 50 percent. According to the Satellite Industry Association, the commercial satellite industry raked in $386 billion in revenues in 2021.