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.