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Japan gets back into the space race

 H3 rocket sits at launch pad to wait for a lift-off at Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

H3 rocket sits at launch pad to wait for a lift-off at Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. Photo: AAP

Japan has successfully launched its new H3 flagship rocket, putting its satellite program back on track after multiple setbacks including the failure of the rocket’s inaugural flight.

The launch also marks a second straight win for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) after its moon lander, SLIM, achieved a “pinpoint” touchdown in January.

A relatively small player in space by number of launches, Japan is seeking to revitalise its program as it partners with ally the United States to counter China.

The H3 had a “successful lift-off” at 9.22am, Tokyo time on Saturday (1122 AEDT), and was “on course” with its engines properly working, JAXA said in a live broadcast that showed scientists clapping and hugging each other at the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

All its payloads – two microsatellites and a dummy satellite – were successfully released, the agency said. The H3 will replace the two-decade-old H-IIA.

JAXA and primary contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries hope that its lower costs and greater payload capacity will help them win launch orders from global clients.

“This is really good. It’s taken some time for the program to get to this point but with this launch they will be fielding inquiries from around the world,” said Ko Ogasawara, a professor at the Tokyo University of Science.

Simple and cheap

The H3’s first flight in March last year ended up with ground control destroying the rocket 14 minutes after lift-off because its second-stage engine failed to ignite.

JAXA listed three possible electrical faults in a review released in October but could not identify the direct cause.

The 63m H3 is designed to carry a 6.5 tonne payload into space and reduce per-launch cost to as low as five billion yen ($50 million) by adopting simpler structures and automotive-grade electronics.

By comparison, the H-IIA costs about 10 billion yen per launch.

The government plans to launch about 20 satellites and probes with H3 rockets by 2030.

The H3 is scheduled to deliver a lunar explorer for the joint Japan-India LUPEX project in 2025 as well as cargo spacecraft for the US-led Artemis moon exploration program in the future.

-AAP

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