Japan’s space agency JAXA studying new reusuable rocket concepts

Even as it struggles to complete the first launch of its H3 hydrogen-fueled expendable rocket, Japan’s space agency JAXA has begun study work on new reusuable rocket concepts, working with its long-time rocket partner Mitsubishi.

Few details were released, but it appears they are studying a replacement for the H3, possibly using methane fuel rather than hydrogen (which is very difficult and expensive to handle), that would be ready for launch in the 2030s.

Meanwhile, the H3 remains grounded after its March 2023 launch failure, when its upper stage engine failed to ignite. No new launch date has been set. Because Japan has no more H2A rockets left, and its smaller Epsilon rocket is also grounded due to launch and test problems, JAXA right now has no capability to launch anything.

Japan’s policy towards space was changed this year to encourage the development of independent, privately owned rockets, but this transition from government-run to commercial has barely begun, and might not go anywhere based on this new study. It appears both JAXA and Mitsubishi are fighting to hold onto their turf.

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 officially delays next H2A rocket launch because of H3 launch failure

Japan’s space agency JAXA has now officially delayed its next H2A rocket launch, scheduled for May and carrying a Japanese lunar lander dubbed SLIM, because that rocket shares some components of Japan’s new H3 rocket, which failed during its inaugural launch in March.

No new launches are currently planned after a series of setbacks for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, including the next-generation H3 rocket’s failure and that of the smaller Epsilon-6 in October, which was ordered to self-destruct after deviating from its intended trajectory shortly after takeoff.

The earliest the H2A launch can be rescheduled for is August, due to the orbital mechanics for getting it to the Moon. There are indications however that even this date will not be met.

H3 failure delays Japan’s entire space program

According to one official of Japan’s space agency JAXA, the failure of the first launch of its new H3 rocket in early March now threatens the schedule of much of Japan’s entire space program, even those missions being launched on the older H2A rocket.

The investigation into the launch failure, when the upper stage of the H3 rocket failed to ignite, remains unfinished with no word when it will be completed.

The H3 upper stage uses an engine designated LE-5B-3 developed by MHI [Mitsubishi Heavy Industries] and similar to the LE-5B engine used on the existing H-2A rocket. That is putting launches of the H-2A on hold while the investigation continues.

That may delay the upcoming launch of two science missions sharing an H-2A. The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), an X-ray astronomy spacecraft, and the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a lunar lander, were scheduled to launch together as soon as May on an H-2A.

The article notes that XRISM replaces a 2016 Japanese X-ray telescope that failed immediately after launch. That failure then was bad, but just as bad is the seven years it has taken JAXA to have a replacement ready.

The H3 failure also threatens a JAXA Mars mission scheduled for launch in 2024, during the next launch window to Mars.

Japan’s space program more and more resembles Russia’s. It is controlled entirely by the government, which it appears does not allow competition within Japan, as all major rocket work is apparently confined to Mitsubishi. There have been unending quality control problems, within many probes as well as in the development of both the H3 and the Epsilon rockets. And the pace of operations is slow, much slower than other nations or companies.

It seems a major reform is needed, and it should start with Japanese government officials reading Capitalism in Space. They need to open up competition and release their space program from the control of JAXA, especially because JAXA is not doing a very good job. Like NASA, it would be better if JAXA stopped being a designer and builder, and become merely a customer obtaining products from many different competing private companies.

Japan’s new H3 rocket’s second stage fails during first launch

Japan’s new H3 rocket failed today on its first launch when something went wrong at second stage ignition, after separation from first stage.

Once controllers realized the rocket would not reach orbit, they initiated a self-destruct sequence, ending the mission.

This is very bad news for Japan’s space effort. Right now it does not have a viable competitive commercial rocket industry. All rocket construction is supervised and controlled by its space agency JAXA, which almost exclusively uses Mitsubishi to build what it wants. With the H3 failing (built by Mitsubishi) and the H2A and H2B (both also built by Mitsubishi) slated for retirement, JAXA does not have a rocket it can use for future missions.

JAXA reschedules first H3 rocket launch following investigation

Japan’s space agency JAXA has rescheduled its second attempt to launch its new H3 rocket for March 6, 2023, following the completion of its investigation into the launch abort at T-0 on February 16, 2023.

As a result of the investigation, it is estimated that the first-stage flight controller malfunctioned due to transient fluctuations in the communication and power lines that occurred during electrical separation between the rocket and the ground facilities.

As a result, the solid rocket strap-on boosters did not ignite as planned, and the rocket’s computer, sensing this anomaly, shut down its main engines. The press release says they are installing “countermeasures” but provides no other information.

First launch of Japan’s H3 rocket aborts at T-0

In its first attempt to launch its new H3 rocket today the rocket’s main liquid-fueled engines ignited, but then the two strap-on solid rockets failed to ignite at T-0, causing that main engine to shut down to protect the rocket and payload.

I have embedded the live stream below, cued to about T-39. At the end of the broadcast the rocket appeared in good condition, though it was still unclear what the caused the problem.

At the moment there is no word when JAXA, Japan’s space agency, will attempt another launch. The H3 is years behind schedule, and was developed in the hope it would be more efficient and cost less to launch than the H2A rocket Japan presently uses.
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Japan’s H3 rocket’s first launch delayed due to problem in “flight system”

Japan’s space agency JAXA announced today that it will delay the first launch of its new H3 rocket for two days, to February 15, 2023, in order to fix an unidentified problem in the rocket’s “flight system.”

The H3 rocket’s first launch is already three years behind schedule. In 2022 the launch was delayed for a full year due to the discovery of defects in its main engines.

This government-controlled rocket was supposed to allow Japan to compete in the international launch market. It does not appear at this point that it will be able to do a very good job at that task. Though Mitsubishi is the main contractor, it appears JAXA is in charge and owns it. Such arrangements rarely produce a cheap, efficient, and reliable product for the commercial market.

JAXA test fires Japan’s new H3 rocket

Delayed two years because of engine cracks, Japan’s space agency JAXA yesterday successfully completed a static fire test of its new H3 rocket.

JAXA aims to conduct the first launch of an H3 rocket before the end of this fiscal year. The space agency will spend about two weeks analyzing data from the latest test to determine whether it was successful.

Two first-stage engines were fired for about 25 seconds during the test, causing smoke to billow from the base of the rocket towards the sea.

Assuming no new issues are found in the test data, Japan hopes to complete the first H3 launch in 2023.

September 5, 2022 Space quick links

All courtesy of BtB’s stringer Jay.

Japan delays launch of JAXA’s new rocket

According to unnamed sources in Japan’s space agency JAXA, the first launch of its new H3 rocket, presently scheduled for the end of March ’22, will be delayed by as much as a year because of “defects” in the rocket’s engine.

…the discovery of defects forced the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to delay it a second time as it remains unclear by when the vehicle’s engine can be redesigned and produced, the sources said Monday.

Some people in the government expressed concerns over the postponement being potentially prolonged, the sources said.

…In May 2020, a test conducted on the H3 rocket’s main engine found holes on the wall of a combustion chamber and a crack on a turbine that feeds fuel to the chamber, prompting the agency to announce the first delay.

Since then, JAXA has reviewed its design and has been reassembling the rocket at Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, from where the rocket is planned to lift off.

None of this has as yet been officially announced. If true, this is a serious blow to Japan’s space effort, which has not been very competitive anyway in the global launch industry. The older H2 rocket in use now is very expensive, so that it has garnered few customers outside of the Japanese government. The new H3 was supposed cost less, but it is entirely expendable, so it can’t compete with the reusable rockets of SpaceX, Blue Origin, or Rocket Lab.

It is also apparently being designed and controlled by JAXA, not Mitsubishi, the prime contractor. Government-run programs nowadays routinely experience endless delays and cost overruns, and the H3 project appears to be more of the same.

Japan’s new H3 rocket is almost ready for launch in ’21

The H3 rocket, jointly made by Mitsubishi and Japan’s space agency JAXA, is almost ready for launch and will be shipped to is launch site shortly for a launch later this year.

According to the link, it will cut the cost of launch by half when compared with Japan’s H2A rocket. They hope this cost reduction will garner them international customers, though I wonder as the rocket is not reusable. To get those international customers they have done something interesting. Rather than putting “Nippon” on the side of the rocket, which is what the Japanese call their country, they have put “Japan” on it instead.

Problems discovered in new Japanese H3 rocket engine

Engineers at Mitsubishi have discovered technical problems in the engine for Japan’s new H3 rocket, forcing its first test launch to be delayed into 2021.

The Japanese space agency JAXA told SpaceNews that problems were found with the new LE-9 engine’s combustion chamber and turbopump. “Fatigue fracture surfaces were confirmed in the apertural area of the combustion chamber inner wall and the FTP blade of the turbo pump,” according to a JAXA spokesperson.

JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the prime contractor for the H3, were aiming to hold the inaugural launch by the end of 2020 before the discovery of issues in May. However engineers testing the LE-9 cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engine for the H3 first stage encountered a potential issue back in May. This led JAXA to announce in September that the first flight would slip to some time in Japanese fiscal year 2021, beginning April 1, 2021. The rocket’s second launch likewise slipped to Japanese fiscal year 2022.

The H3 is intended as a cheaper and more competitive version of Mitsubishi’s H2 rocket, which has failed to garner much business outside of Japanese government launches because of its cost. That the H3 isn’t being built to be reusable however means it will likely not achieve that goal, as it will not be able to lower it enough to compete with SpaceX.

This launch delay further weakens its ability to compete, as it gives more time for other cheaper alternatives to hit the market.

Japan delays launch of new rocket one year

Capitalism in space: Because of a problem discovered in the development of its new first stage engine, Japan has now delayed the first launch of its new H3 rocket one year, to ’21.

Mitsubishi is building the rocket for Japan’s space agency JAXA, Since you design and build your rocket around your rocket engines, having a problem with that rocket engine puts a serious crimp on construction. Thus, identifying and dealing with such engine issues early in development is wise.

Still, Japan continues to lag behind the other space-faring nations in the development of its space industry.

Japan tests new engine for new rocket

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi has successfully tested the new engine it will use in the new rocket, the H3, that it is building for Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

JAXA reports that the engine fired for the planned duration of 240 seconds (4 minutes) at the space agency’s Tanegashima Space Center. It was the seventh hot fire of the new engine, which is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

JAXA plans H-3’s first test launch by the end of the nation’s 2020 fiscal year, which began on April 1 and will end on March 31, 2021. It is not known whether work slow downs resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will affect the schedule.

The two-stage H3 is intended to be a more affordable and flexible replacement for the H-IIA and H-IIB boosters now in use. The new rocket is designed to place payloads weighing 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) or more into sun-synchronous orbit at 500 km (310.7 miles) or 6,500 kg (14,330 lb) into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

I do wish JAXA or Mitsubishi would give this rocket a more interesting name. It would help their woeful marketing attempts to sell it to other customers.

Mitsubishi offers its H3 rocket to Artemis

Earlier this week Japan announced that it planned to become a partner in NASA’s Artemis program to build a space station in lunar orbit.

That announcement was very vague. Yesterday an official from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries might have offered the first real detail, suggesting that its new H3 rocket, scheduled for its first lift-off in 2020, could be used to launch components for Artemis, as early as 2025. The official described one option for using the H3, sending Japan’s upgraded ISS cargo freighter, the HTV-X, to Gateway in 2025 or 2026.

Launching an HTV-X cargo vessel to the gateway would require two H3 launches, he said. The first launch would send an HTV-X into an orbit around the Earth, he said. The second launch would send up an upper stage with an enlarged fuel tank to dock with the HTV-X and propel it to the Gateway, he said.

What was not stated was who will pay for this. The U.S.? Japan? Either way Mitsubishi, which has failed badly in garnering any of the international commercial satellite business for its H2B rocket, is clearly trying to attract business now for the H3 rocket, supposedly designed to be cheaper to launch.

Japan’s next rocket on schedule for 2020 launch

A new Japanese rocket, the H3, being built by Mitsubishi and designed to cut launch costs by half, is presently on schedule for debut in 2020.

Key quote from the article:

JAXA has given MHI a greater level of influence on the H3 than it did with the H-2A. Ogasawara said whereas the total launch vehicle design for the H-2A was JAXA’s responsibility, MHI’s role as prime contractor and vehicle integrator gives the company more creative freedom. He stressed, however, that JAXA is still directly involved in the design and development for certain key components. “Therefore, we work together, JAXA and MHI, very closely,” he said.

I don’t know how much of that claim is true. That they are making it though suggests that they have been strongly influenced by the shift in the U.S. from NASA-run projects to commercially-run projects.

The launch cost of Japan’s H-IIA rocket

The competition heats up: Yesterday’s launch of Japan’s first commercial payload on its upgraded lower cost H-IIA rocket suggested that they are now a serious player in the competitive launch market. What the earlier articles didn’t tell me was the cost they charge to launch a payload on H-IIA.

This article today states that each launch costs 10 billion yen, which translates to about $80 million. That is about $10 million more than SpaceX charges for its Falcon 9, but is certainly cheaper than many other rocket companies. At this price they have a chance of grabbing some of the launch market, but to really compete they need to cut that cost even more, which the article suggests their next rocket will succeed in doing: “The government is developing a new core rocket named the H3, whose launches are expected to cost only about a half of the H2A.”

They do not say whether H3 will be reusable, but at $40 million per launch it will be the cheapest rocket on Earth. That it is government developed however makes me skeptical they will succeed. We shall see. What is clear, however, is that the competition is certainly encouraging the lowering of cost.