The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency just may be catching up to other large space agencies – it made history by setting the record for the smallest rocket to ever launch a satellite into orbit. JAXA used a SS-520 sounding rocket modified with a third-stage carrying a 13.6-inch TRICOM-1R cubesat as its payload.
JAXA’s original SS-520 launch attempted to pull this off, but ended in failure in January last year when a technical malfunction kept the second stage from activating, Gizmodo reports. Investigators found out that vibrations caused a short circuit, and took down the rocket’s transmitters in order to repair it.
According to a press release by the space agency, this recent launch was a success, and the TRICOM-1R is functioning as expected. Translated from Japanese, JAXA said,
Unit 5 of the SS-520 flew as planned, succeeded in separating the TRICOM-1R (Trichom One Ear) micro satellite in orbit for about 7 minutes 30 seconds after the experiment. The TRICOM-1R’s status is normal.
The rocket is “about the size of a utility pole, measuring 10 meters [33 feet] in length and 50 centimeters [20 inches] in diameter,” and was created with “components found in home electronics and smartphones,” according to the Japan Times.
And while it’s tiny, it’s specifications are not exactly miniscule. Spaceflight now says, “According to JAXA documents, the SS-520-5 weighed nearly 2.9 tons (2.6 metric tons) at launch, with nearly 2.2 tons (2 metric tons) of that weight made up of pre-packed solid propellants. The SS-520-5’s first stage, fitted with spin-stabilizing fins, was loaded with nearly 3,500 pounds (1,587 kilograms) of HTPB solid fuel. ”
The rocket’s payload, the TRICOM-1R, weighs 300 pounds, and is equipped with radios and imaging equipment.
This launch is part of the growing trend in spaceflight towards smaller crafts that are able to deliver equally smaller payloads. Smaller rockets are cheaper to build and ultimately, could surmount any challenges companies might have to entering space.