The H3 launcher is set to become the catalyst for Japan's space business. However, the launches so far have not gone according to plan. After the recent launch, there is a problem in the second phase of the missile test.
Shortly after a newly developed Japanese launch vehicle lifted off, the JAXA space agency triggered the rocket's self-destruct. The reason given was that the drive of the second rocket stage had not ignited. The successor to the reliable H2A carrier rocket - Japan's first new development of a large carrier rocket for around 30 years - had lifted off from the Tanegashima spaceport in the south-west of the island kingdom.
The first phase initially seemed to be going according to plan. But soon after, signs of trouble began to appear. "It seems the speed is slowing down," the Jaxa's live broadcast said while the missile was about 300 kilometers above the ground. Shortly thereafter, the command center reported: "The firing of the second phase engine has not yet been confirmed, we are further evaluating the situation."
The rocket's planned maiden flight was canceled at the last minute on February 17 due to an electronic fault. This launch attempt was already two years behind schedule. After the repeated attempts and the fiasco, the conservative Japanese daily "Sankei Shimbun" wrote of a "disappointment". The H3 should become the catalyst for an expansion of the Japanese space business.
According to the business newspaper "Nikkei Asia", Japan's space agency JAXA and the industrial group Mitsubishi Heavy wanted to complete the launch by the end of March, the end of the fiscal year. With the H3 they want to meet the growing demand for launch vehicles after Russia decided to withdraw its Soyuz rockets from Europe's spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana.
At 63 meters tall and 5.2 meters in diameter, the H3 is the first updated version of Japan's launch vehicle in more than two decades. It is said to be more powerful, cheaper and safer than the older H2A rocket, which is due to be phased out in fiscal 2024. According to Nikkei Asia, the rocket that has now been destroyed contained an observation satellite that also contained a missile early warning system for the Japanese Ministry of Defense.
Japan wants to gain a stronger foothold in the lucrative and increasingly competitive satellite launch business with the H3. The H3 rocket program is also seen as important to Japan's involvement in future space development, including the US-led Artemis lunar exploration program. The first launch was originally planned for fiscal 2020 but was delayed due to problems developing a main engine.