Identify Cause of Accident to Take on the Challenge Again

The launch of the H3 rocket, which was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., has ended in failure.

The development of a next-generation flagship rocket has stumbled badly at the very first step. The advanced land observation satellite Daichi-3 that it carried was also lost. This has been a major blow, and it must be said that JAXA and other entities bear heavy responsibility.

After liftoff, the mission went smoothly until the first-stage rocket was jettisoned. However, the second-stage engine failed to ignite, making it impossible for the rocket to reach its scheduled orbit, so the destruct command was sent from the ground, according to JAXA.

Last month, a control instrument detected an abnormal signal immediately before liftoff and the launch was automatically aborted. The reason was that the circuit was accidentally turned off by electrical noise and the solid-fuel rocket booster did not ignite.

If the failure of the second-stage engine to ignite this time was also due to the subtle behavior of the electrical circuit, it can be said that the difficulty of developing new rockets has once again been made plain.

In the development of the H3 rocket, the launch was two years behind schedule due to the time required to resolve the first-stage engine issues.

However, the second-stage engine is not significantly different from that of the existing flagship H-2A rocket, and unless an investigation is conducted to determine why the anomaly occurred only this time, there is little hope for future success.

The H-2A boasted a high launch success rate at 98% and has been praised for its accuracy in launching on schedule. However, its high launching cost of ¥10 billion made it less competitive for commercial satellite launches.

On the other hand, the launching cost of the H3 was cut in half to ¥5 billion through such measures as converting low-cost electronic parts for automobiles. It would be regrettable if such cost-cutting measures had a negative impact on the quality of the rocket.

SpaceX, a U.S. startup, launches dozens of spacecraft a year on a continuous basis at low prices. In order for Japan to attract orders from around the world, in addition to cost reductions, the country must maintain a high success rate and establish a system for launching spacecraft without delays.

In recent years, artificial satellite launch costs have fallen internationally, and business surrounding space development has become more active. If Japan does not stand on the starting line soon, it will increasingly miss out in the global competition. Prolonged stagnation cannot be tolerated in this regard.

Historically, failures have always been part of the development of new rockets, and each country has moved forward through trial and error. It is hoped that JAXA will not be excessively discouraged by this failure but should reorganize itself to try the launch again as soon as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 8, 2023)