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Japan’s SS-520 launch a failure

Japan’s attempt to launch a payload into orbit with the smallest rocket ever ended in failure today.

[A]ccording to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), communication systems malfunctioned after the rocket launched, causing the ignition of the second booster to be terminated. The rocket fell into the sea southeast of Uchinoura.

My impression of Japan’s space effort in recent years is somewhat comparable to that of Russia’s: Significant quality control issues that cause too many failures. This is just one more example.

I must also note that the rocket was not a private effort, but a demo project of Japan’s government space agency, JAXA, designed to show off new technology but funded through coercive government funds, not monies provided voluntarily by customers. Thus, the pressure to succeed was much less, as no one’s job or business was at risk should it fail.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Alex

    Mr. Zimmerman, are there more details about cause of failure? BTW, I have to correct myself. SS-520-4 is not the smallest and lightest launcher, which ever was used in a satellite launch attempt.

    No, it is a 4-stage design, called NOTSNIK, a complete solid rocket driven assembly, developed by the United States Navy’s United States Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) around 1958. It weighted only 900 kg and had a projected payload capability of 1 kg. The only passive controlled rocket (spin stabilized) was launched from a fighter aircraft. There were several trials. It seems all tests failed, but it is not totally sure in case of one shot, which may resulted in a orbit.

  • Alex

    Launch can be seen at about 33:40 min.

  • LocalFluff

    I think that dedicated small launchers face a very difficult market, even as miniaturization makes small satellites better and more common. Several things conspire against dedicated small launchers:

    – Most small satellites don’t care what orbit they are in, while at the same time any useful orbits, like SSO (Solar synchronous) and GEO, are out of reach for small launchers. So there’s only a small part of the small satellites market that would benefit from dedicated launchers.

    – ULA/Altas V is aggressively offering secondary payload services for all kinds of payload sizes and including propulsion in orbit. If that competition heats up prices could fall to marginal costs, even cheaper per kg than for large primary payloads.

    – What about the re-purposing of old US ICBM’s? That might dump the prices for launching small payloads for some time.

    – A thing like Solar sails might revolutionize orbital control for secondary payloads, as could Solar electric propulsion if considered safe to carry as secondary payload.

    – That governments out of prestige play with dedicated launchers without any consideration at all for the costs, like in this example, well that is a bad kind competitor to have and should deter private investments.

  • LocalFluff

    ULA even gives away cubesat launches for free to universities. Like software companies release free student versions, they see it as an investment in the overall industry growth that creates more rocket scientists and thus more future big satellite customers.

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