Japan said it had destroyed a new medium-lift rocket it launched into space on Tuesday after the vehicle’s second-stage engine failed to ignite, in a blow to its efforts to expand access to space and remain competitive in a launch market roiled by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The H3 was carrying the ALOS-3, a disaster management land observation satellite that is also equipped with an experimental infrared sensor designed to detect North Korean ballistic missile launches.
Shares in Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd (MHI), the H3’s builder, fell 1.8% in morning trade, while the broader Japanese benchmark index was up 0.4%.
Powered by a new simpler, lower-cost engine that includes 3D-printed parts, the H3 is designed to lift government and commercial satellites into Earth orbit.
It also meant to ferry supplies to the International Space Station.
As part of Japan’s deepening cooperation with the US in space, it will eventually carry cargo to the Gateway lunar space station that NASA plans to build as part of its program to return people to the moon, including Japanese astronauts.
MHI has estimated that the H3’s cost per launch will be half of its predecessor, the H-II, helping it win business in a global launch market increasingly dominated by SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket.
In a report published in September, the Center for Strategic and International Studies put the cost of a Falcon 9 launch to low Earth orbit at $2,600 per kilogram. The equivalent price tag for the H-II is US$10,500.
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