Coming three weeks after an aborted launch due to a separate glitch, the H3’s failure was a setback for Japan’s space programme — and possibly for its missile detection programme — and a disappointment for space fans who were rooting for Tuesday’s retrial.
The rocket was carrying an Advanced Land Observation Satellite, tasked primarily with Earth observation and data collection for disaster response and map making, and an experimental infrared sensor developed by the Defence Ministry that can monitor military activity including missile launches.
The H3 rocket with a white head blasted off and soared into the blue sky from the Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan as fans and local residents cheered.
The projectile followed its planned trajectory and the second stage separated as planned but the ignition failed, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said.
JAXA said it sent a command to destroy the rocket as there was no hope of the mission being completed. Officials are investigating the cause of the failure, and expected to give early findings at a news conference later on Tuesday.
The failure is the second in six months since a smaller Epsilon-series solid-fuelled rocket designed to launch scientific satellites failed in October.
The H3 launch had also been delayed for more than two years because of an engine development delay. During a launch attempt in February, an electrical glitch after the main engine ignition aborted the launch just before lift-off and narrowly saved the rocket.
The H3 rocket — Japan’s first new series in more than 22 years — was developed at a cost of 200 billion yen ($1.47 billion) by JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a successor to Japan’s H-2A rocket, which is due to retire after its upcoming 50th launch.
The H3, which is about 60m long, can carry larger payloads than the 53m H-2A.
But its launch cost has been slashed approximately in half to about 50 million yen ($368,000) by simplifying its design, manufacturing and operation in an effort to win more commercial launch customers. The hydrogen-fuelled main engine is newly developed and uses fewer parts by altering the combustion method.
The space launch business has become increasing competitive, with major players including SpaceX and Arianespace.