Science News

Japan’s Rocket Crashes Back To Earth In Launch Failure

Photo from JAXA

Japan’s ambitions to advance their presence in space have ground to a sudden halt after an experimental rocket the country launched crashed back to Earth. Had things gone well, it would have been the tiniest rocket to place a payload in orbit.

The small rocket, called the SS-520-4, was carrying a single 6.6-pound satellite named TRICOM-1, which it was supposed to put into orbit. The primary plans of the launch went smoothly, but a communications failure during flight forced flight controllers to suddenly abort the mission, The Verge reports.

Because of this, both rocket and satellite fell back mid-flight to drop in the ocean, a report from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) stated. This was the rocket’s first flight.

The SS-520-4 is an updated version of the SS-520 sounding rocket, the latter used to deliver research payloads up to 621 miles high. The new rocket had been fitted with an extra third stage, or a third engine on top of its body, to give it the extra power necessary to make it to orbit.

Takeoff from the Uchinoura Space Observatory took place at 8:33 AM, Japan Time. The SS-520-4 launched without issues, but after 20 seconds, flight controllers could not receive any communication from the spacecraft. This prompted JAXA to stop the rest of the launch.

The first and second stages of the rocket had separated as planned, but it was ignition of the second stage that had to be aborted. The rocket and satellite dropped to a planned area in the ocean southeast of Uchinoura.

At a mere 31 feet tall and 20 inches in diameter, the SS-520-4 would have been the smallest rocket to ever put anything into orbit, NASA says. The point of the mission was supposed to demonstrate that it was possible for smaller spacecraft to launch a satellite. The TRICOM-1 was going to take photos of Earth from space.

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