First Launch of Japan’s New H3 Rocket Failed, Earth Observation Satellite Payload Destroyed


The first launch of a new Japanese-made rocket failed after the H3 Rocket’s second stage ignition system failed. Photo/JAXA/Space

TOKYO – The first launch of a new Japanese-made rocket failed after the H3 Rocket’s second-stage ignition system failed. This failure resulted in the loss of the sophisticated earth observation satellite carried by the H3 rocket.

The H3 rocket made by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) took off from the Tanegashima Space Center on Monday 6 March 2023 at 8:37 pm. After approximately 5 minutes and 27 seconds of liftoff, a command was sent to the rocket for stage separation and second stage ignition.

Just after seven minutes of flight, launch commenters on JAXA’s livestream on YouTube noted that the rocket’s velocity dropped and second stage ignition could not be confirmed. Mission control shortly thereafter issued the rocket destruction order, ending its first test flight early.

“A demolition order has been sent to the launch vehicle, as there is no possibility of achieving the mission,” a statement on the JAXA livestream was quoted from the Space page, Tuesday (7/3/2023).

Monday’s takeoff was the H3’s second attempt at its debut launch. The H3 aborted its first attempt on February 16, due to problems with the electrical system supplying power to the rocket’s first-stage LE-9 engine.

The payload carried by the H3 Rocket is the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3 (ALOS-3), known as DAICHI-3. This earth observation satellite is planned to go into a sun-synchronous orbit 669 km above Earth.

The satellite is designed to provide high-resolution images of Japan and other areas within a 70-kilometer wide band with a resolution as sharp as 0.8 meters. The failed launch came after a decade of joint development by JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The H3 Rocket, on the other hand, is either 57 or 63 m high, depending on the length of the two possible payload fairings that can be used for each mission. The rocket is capable of sending 4 tonnes or more of payload into a 500 km high sun-synchronous orbit and 6.5 tonnes or more into a geostationary transfer orbit.

First Launch of Japan's New H3 Rocket Failed, Earth Observation Satellite Payload Destroyed

The H3 rocket that failed carried two solid propellant side thrusters, but the rocket could be bundled with four thrusters for increased thrust. The H3 rocket was designed to have greater flexibility, toughness, and better cost performance than the H-IIA.

“The stable operation of the H3 will make a significant contribution to Japan’s security. This is especially important given China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region, where space defense has emerged as high on the agenda,” said Yui Nakama, a visiting fellow at ESPI from the University of Tokyo.


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