Private-Sector Rocket: Use Launch Failure as Step toward New Era of Space Development

Space development is moving from a conventional government-led approach to an era of private-sector-led approach. It is important for Japan to accumulate such experience and participate in international competition.

Space One Co., a space startup, launched its first small rocket, Kairos, but it failed shortly after launch when an anomaly caused the rocket to automatically self-destruct. If it was successful, it would have been the first launch of a satellite by the private sector in Japan.

Although the outcome is a regrettable one, failure is an inevitable part of the development process for a startup. The launch of the first H3, a large rocket developed under Japanese government initiatives, also did not go well. It is essential to investigate the causes of Kairos’ failure and aim to resume a launch as soon as possible.

Space One was established with investments from IHI Aerospace Co. — which is engaged in rocket development — Canon Electronics Inc., Shimizu Corp. and Development Bank of Japan. It can be said that steady progress has been made, from the selection of the candidate launch site to the first launch.

Space development involves great risk. While it is effective to have major companies and a government-affiliated financial institution supporting the project, it is hoped that venture companies will not lose their characteristic sense of speed as a result.

SpaceX, a U.S. company that leads the world in space development, received development funds from the U.S. government and reached its current position by taking on government work. It is important for the Japanese government as well to actively place orders for satellite launches with startups and help their growth.

The initially scheduled launch of Kairos, which was set for March 9, was postponed as a result of a vessel entering the restricted area of the sea near the launch site. After the explosion of the rocket’s body, numerous pieces of debris fell onto the land around the launch pad, and a fire broke out. Hopefully, Space One will utilize the lessons learned from this failure and move on to the next challenge.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has launch sites on Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture and elsewhere. Kairos’ launch site in Wakayama Prefecture, however, is comparatively close to urban areas. It is also accessible by train, and many visitors came to watch the launch. It will likely become a new resource for tourism.

Interstellar Technologies Inc., a startup that has already successfully launched rockets, has a launch site in the town of Taiki, Hokkaido. Plans are also underway in Oita and Okinawa prefectures to establish space development bases.

It is hoped that these movements will further promote the space industry and vitalize local economies.

With demand on the rise for building communication networks using a large number of small satellites, competition to accept satellite launch orders is intensifying globally. It is essential for Japan to gain trust by making preparations to steadily launch rockets from various parts of the country that have been developed under the initiatives of the government and the private sector.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2024)