Japan successfully launches XRISM X-ray space telescope and SLIM lunar lander

SLIM's landing zone
Map showing SLIM landing zone on the Moon.
Click for interactive map.

Japan today (September 7th in Japan) successfully used its H-2A rocket to place both the XRISM X-ray space telescope and SLIM lunar lander into orbit.

As of posting XRISM has been successfully deployed. SLIM has not, as it needs to wait until after a second burn of the rocket’s upper stage about 40 minutes later. The map to the right shows SLIM’s landing target on the Moon, where it will attempt a precision landing within a zone about 300 feet across.

This was Japan’s second launch this year, so it does not get included in the leader board for the 2023 launch race:

62 SpaceX
39 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

In the national rankings, American private enterprise still leads China in successful launches 71 to 39. It also still leads the entire world combined, 71 to 64, while SpaceX by itself now trails the rest of the world (excluding American companies) only 62 to 64.

JAXA schedules last H-2A rocket launch, carrying X-Ray telescope and lunar lander

SLIM's landing zone
Map showing SLIM landing zone on the Moon.
Click for interactive map.

Japan’s space agency JAXA today announced that it has finally rescheduled the launch of its XRISM X-Ray telescope and its SLIM lunar lander launch for September 7, 2023, lifting off using the last flight of its H-2A rocket.

The previous launch attempt several weeks ago was scrubbed due to high winds. This new launch date has a window of seven days, which means if weather scrubs the September 7th launch they will be able to try again immediately within that window.

The white dot on the map to the right shows the targeted landing site of SLIM, which is testing the ability of an unmanned probe to land precisely within a tiny zone of less than 300 feet across.

Meanwhile, with the retirement of the H-2A rocket and its replacement having not yet flown successfully (its first launch failed in March), Japan after this launch will be in the same boat as Europe, without a large rocket and lacking the ability to put large payloads into orbit.

Japan’s H-2A rocket launches communications satellite

Japan today successfully launched a commercial communications satellite using its Mitsubishi-built H-2A rocket.

This was Japan’s third and likely last launch in 2021. Since 2018 its numbers have been low, ranging from 2 to 4, so this total matches that pace. It is an embarrassment for Japan, however, when compared to China and SpaceX.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race remain unchanged:

48 China
31 SpaceX
22 Russia
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 Rocket Lab

The U.S. and China remain tied at 48 in the national rankings. This was the 128th successful launch in 2021, making it the second most active year in the history of rocketry, exceeded only by 1975, when there were 132 successful launches, 98 of which were by the Soviet Union, with the bulk of these being short term low orbit spy satellites.

Japan launches GPS-type satellite

Japan successfully launched a government GPS-type satellite, using the H-2A rocket that is built by Mitsubishi.

This was Japan’s first launch in 2021. It appears this year it will not match last year’s launch total of four.

The leaders in 2021 launch race remains unchanged:

37 China
23 SpaceX
17 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman
4 Arianespace (Europe)

China still leads the U.S. 37 to 36 in the national rankings.

UAE’s Hope Mars Orbiter successfully launched

The new colonial movement: The United Arab Emirates first interplanetary probe, its Hope Mars Orbiter, was successfully launched by a Mitsubishi H-2A rocket today from Japan, and is now on its way to Mars.

It will arrive in February 2021, when it will attempt to inject itself into orbit, where it will then be used to study the Martian weather.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

16 China
10 SpaceX
7 Russia
3 Japan

The U.S. still leads China in the national rankings, 17 to 16.

Launch delays for SpaceX and UAE

The launches planned for tomorrow by SpaceX and Japan’s space agency JAXA have both been postponed, for different reasons.

The SpaceX launch of a South Korean military satellite was postponed in order to swap out equipment in the Falcon’s upper stage. No new launch date has yet been announced.

The JAXA launch, using Mitsubishi’s H-2A rocket, was to launch the United Arab Emirates’ Mars orbiter Hope. It was postponed due to bad weather. Their next launch window is July 16, but they have not yet announced a new launch date. Like Perseverance, they must launch this summer or they will have to wait two years for the next launch window to Mars to reopen.

Japan launches UAE satellite

The new colonial movement: A Japanese H-2A rocket today successfully placed into orbit the United Arab Emirates first home-built satellite.

This gives Japan six launches for 2018, matching that nation’s previous high, accomplished both in 2006 and 2017.

The UAE satellite, KhalifaSat, was essentially a cubesat, and could be considered comparable to the numerous student-built cubesats that have been built and launched by universities as teaching devices.

Mitsubishi wins launch contract from Inmarsat

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi has been awarded a commercial launch contract from Inmarsat.

Recent Inmarsat satellites have launched on Proton, Falcon 9, and Ariane 5 rockets operated by International Launch Services, SpaceX and Arianespace. MHI [Mitsubishi Heavy Industries] has positioned the H-2A as a secondary player in the global launch market, and the Inmarsat 6 F1 contract gives the Japanese company its second commercial telecom launch deal after the Canadian-owned Telstar 12 Vantage satellite lifted off from Tanegashima in November 2015.

Japan has made noises about shifting control of its launch industry from its space agency JAXA to the private sector. This new contract between Mitsubishi and Inmarsat suggests that they are following through with that shift. However, though no specific price was mentioned in the article, the quote below indicates that Mitsubishi will have a big hill to climb to become competitive.

“The reason why we got the launch order from Inmarsat, I think, was not, of course, the cost-competitiveness of the H-2A launch vehicle, but I think our launch record is very good — 35 consecutive successes, high reliability — and another is on-time launch,” [Ko Ogasawara, Mitsubishi vice president] said in remarks last week at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris. “We keep our schedule, and I think they put a high value on that.”

Mitsubishi’s next generation rocket, the H3, is being targeted for a launch price of $50 million, half of what the H-2A charges and more competitive in today’s market.

Japan’s beginning shift to commercial space

Link here. The article provides a good sense of the state of Japan’s private space industry, which at this moment is generally restricted one company, Interstellar Technologies, and its as yet unsuccessful effort to launch a suborbital rocket. The following quote however helps explain why Japan has been unable to interest anyone in buying its H-2A rocket for commercial launches.

Launch costs associated with Japan’s main H-2A rocket are about ¥10 billion per launch (about $90 million), so miniature satellites often ride together with bigger satellites. A period of 50 days is required between launches, meaning the number of launches is low in Japan compared to countries including the United States, Europe, Russia, China and India. Large satellites are given priority in the launch schedule, so it is often difficult to choose a launch window for miniature satellites. [emphasis mine]

I think the $90 million price is a significant reduction from what JAXA used to charge. Fifty days to prep for launch however is ungodly slow.

Japanese launch scrubbed due to problem with rocket

Japan’s space agency JAXA scrubbed a Saturday launch of a GPS satellite because of a possible leak in the H2-A rocket’s helium pressurization system.

The Japanese have not released much information. However, the problem might be more serious than normal, because the rocket was still on the launchpad on Sunday, almost a day after the launch itself was scrubbed. Normally when a launch is scrubbed they move quickly to safe the rocket and get it back into the assembly building to assess the issue. That the rocket was not moved suggests they might be having a problem doing this.

Arianespace and the Russian-owned Sea Launch are seeking to get the restrictions against them removed so that they can sell their services to more customers.

The competition heats up: Arianespace and the Russian-owned Sea Launch are seeking to get the restrictions against them removed so that they can sell their services to more customers.

Arianespace wants to sell its launch services to the U.S. government, something it is not allowed to do right now because of U.S. restrictions. These are the same kinds of restrictions that has prevented SpaceX from launching military satellites and which that company is now contesting.

Russia meanwhile wants to use Sea Launch for its own payloads, but because Sea Launch’s platform is based in California, the Russian government won’t allow their payloads on it because of security reasons. They want the platform moved to Russia so that they can use their own company to launch their own satellites.

The article also describes how Japan is trying to reduce the cost of its H-2A rocket by 50% so that it can become more competitive.

All in all, I would say that the arrival of SpaceX has done exactly what was predicted, shaken the industry out of its doldrums. How else to explain this sudden interest in open competition and lowering costs? These companies could have done this decades ago. They did not. Suddenly a new player arrives on the scene, offering to beat them at their own game. It is not surprising that they are fighting back.

A cheaper Japanese launch vehicle is scheduled to launch next month.

A cheaper Japanese launch vehicle is scheduled to launch next month.

The story is actually not very informative. What is interesting is the spin of the article: Japan’s rockets are getting cheaper! This suggests to me that the pressure brought to bear by SpaceX’s lower prices is being felt quite strongly.

We really don’t know if this Japanese rocket is cheaper to launch. What we do know is that, for the first time in decades, Japan feels compelled to use that sales pitch to sell its rockets. Isn’t competition great?