Rocket Launch Postponed by Tokyo-Based Space Startup After Vessel Entered Restricted Maritime Area (Update 1)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A KAIROS rocket is seen on Saturday in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture.

The first launch of the KAIROS rocket has been postponed, according to Space One Co., the Tokyo-based start-up that developed it.

No problems were detected with the rocket, Space One said. The launch had been scheduled for Saturday morning but was delayed because there was a vessel in a maritime area that needed to be clear to ensure safety.

The next launch is scheduled for Wednesday or later.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Spectators who gathered at Tahara beach to see the launch react to the postponement on Saturday in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture.

KAIROS was set to be launched at 11:01 a.m. Saturday from the Space Port Kii launch site developed by Space One.

Shortly before that time, the company postponed the launch by 16 minutes but ultimately it decided to move it to another day.

The next attempt will take place between 11:01 a.m. and 11:17 a.m. on or after Wednesday. The launch window for KAIROS lasts through March 31.

“We’ll do our best to meet expectations for the next launch,” Space One said.

Space One is aiming to commercialize “space delivery services, ”in which its rockets take small satellites and other cargo into orbit. It has set a target of launching 30 spacecraft a year in the 2030s.

Vessel in restricted area

The company has no legal means to forcibly exclude vessels from a restricted area. How to ensure an environment in which launches can be conducted without disruption is something that must be considered.

“It was our first launch attempt, so there are things that need to be improved. We should have conducted surveillance activities much earlier,” Kozo Abe, an executive officer of Space One, said at a press conference in Wakayama Prefecture on Saturday afternoon.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Kozo Abe, an executive officer of Space One Co., speaks at a press conference in Nachikatsuura, Wakayama Prefecture, on Saturday afternoon.

According to the Japan Coast Guard, restricted areas are determined by launch operators to prevent damage to ships. They are based on Cabinet Office guidelines and envision an area where debris could fall immediately after a launch.

Ships are informed of the date, time and restricted area using a designated system through the JCG. Launch operators are also responsible for taking measures to keep ships out of the area, but there is no legal basis to force them out.

Space One set a sea area southeast of the launch site measuring 6.5 kilometers by 6.5 kilometers as a restricted area. It tried to inform local fishing cooperatives and individual vessel owners by distributing flyers for several weeks before the launch date.

About 10 warning boats were also deployed in the surrounding waters several hours before the scheduled launch on Saturday, and they radioed warnings to approaching vessels.

However, more than 10 minutes before the scheduled launch time, a vessel was spotted within the area. The warning boats approached and asked it to leave, but it could not do so in time for the launch. It was not clear what kind of vessel entered the area and when.

The Yomiuri Shimbun