Space One Kairos Rocket Failed to Launch on First Flight in Japan

On Wednesday, Japan’s Space One experienced a setback as its small, solid-fuel rocket named Kairos exploded shortly after its maiden launch. The company aimed to become the first Japanese entity to deploy a satellite into orbit.

The 18-meter (59 ft) rocket disintegrated mere seconds after liftoff at 11:01 AM (0201 GMT), resulting in a substantial cloud of smoke, a fire, rocket fragments, and firefighting efforts near the launch site, as captured by local media streams.

Space One disclosed that it terminated the flight following the launch on the Kii Peninsula’s mountainous tip in western Japan and is currently analyzing flight data.

According to Shuhei Kishimoto, governor of the local Wakayama government, the autonomous flight-termination system was triggered due to an unspecified problem. Fortunately, there were no injuries near the launch pad, and the fire was extinguished.

The launch process, including the flight termination function, is highly automated, requiring only about a dozen staff at the ground control center, as per Space One.

Kairos carried an experimental government satellite designed to serve as a temporary replacement for intelligence satellites in orbit if they experience downtime. The launch, initially planned for Saturday, was postponed after a ship entered the nearby restricted sea area.

Despite Japan’s relatively modest role in the space industry, its rocket developers are striving to create more cost-effective vehicles to meet the escalating demand for satellite launches from both domestic and international clients.

Kairos Rocket
Kairos Rocket Exploding on Take-off

Space One, headquartered in Tokyo and established in 2018, is a consortium of Japanese companies, including Canon Electronics, the aerospace engineering division of IHI, construction firm Shimizu, and the state-backed Development Bank of Japan. Additionally, two major Japanese banks, Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho, hold minority stakes in the company.

Following the unsuccessful launch, shares in Canon Electronics fell by as much as 13%, while IHI shares experienced a decline of up to 2%.

Space One aims to provide “space courier services” to clients domestically and internationally, with plans to launch 20 rockets annually by the late 2020s, according to its president, Masakazu Toyoda. Despite the delays in Kairos’ inaugural launch, the company has received orders for its second and third planned trips, including from overseas customers.

Kairos consists of three stages of solid-fuel engines and a liquid-fuel post-boost stage engine, with the capability to carry payloads of up to 250 kg to low-Earth orbit.

While Space One has not disclosed the launch costs for Kairos, company executive Kozo Abe indicated that they are competitive against American rival Rocket Lab.

Rocket Lab, known for its Electron small rockets, has conducted over 40 launches from New Zealand since 2017 at approximately $7 million per flight. Notably, several Japanese companies, including iQPS and Synspective, have utilized Electron for their missions, along with orbital debris-removal startup Astroscale.

In recent developments, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched its new cost-efficient flagship rocket, the H3. With plans to carry about 20 satellites and probes to space by 2030, the H3 marks a significant milestone for Japan’s space endeavors.

However, JAXA has faced setbacks in the past, including the failure of H3’s inaugural flight last year and a mishap involving the smaller Epsilon rocket in 2022. Additionally, an upgraded engine for Epsilon exploded at JAXA’s testing site in July 2023.

In collaboration with the United States, Japan aims to revitalize its domestic aerospace industry to counter technological and military competition from China and Russia. The government has pledged comprehensive support for space startups with technology crucial for national security, emphasizing the development of satellite constellations to enhance intelligence capabilities.

Furthermore, Japan’s defense ministry recently announced a partnership with Space One to enhance its rockets’ payload by experimenting with fuel-efficient methane engines.

Josh Alba
Josh Alba
Josh Alba stands at the forefront of contemporary business journalism, his words weaving narratives that illuminate the intricate workings of the corporate world. With a keen eye for detail and a penchant for uncovering the underlying stories behind financial trends, Josh has established himself as a trusted authority in business writing. Drawing from his wealth of experience and relentless pursuit of truth, Josh delivers insights that resonate with readers across industries.
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