KIMOTSUKI, Kagoshima Prefecture--Offsetting an earlier failure, Japan’s Epsilon rocket roared into space on Sept. 14 after a successful liftoff at 2 p.m. at the Uchinoura Space Center here.
Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the nation’s newest-generation rocket carried the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) satellite. It was put into orbit about an hour after the launch, and its telescope will enable remote observations of Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
The Epsilon, Japan's first new rocket in 12 years, was initially scheduled for its debut launch on Aug. 27. But 19 seconds before liftoff, an alarm indicated a glitch in the rocket’s automatic inspection system. The launch was aborted, much to the chagrin of the spectators and JAXA.
A large number of people also flocked to the Uchinoura Space Center to witness the launch on Sept. 14, the first day of a three-day holiday weekend. And this time, they were not disappointed.
The Epsilon rocket stands 24 meters tall and weighs 90 tons, about half the size of the H-2A, Japan’s standard launch system.
JAXA reduced the launch costs of the new rocket to about 3.8 billion yen ($38 million), one-third that of the previous liquid-fueled H-2A and half that for the M-V rocket.
The Epsilon uses the H-2A’s auxiliary booster as the main launcher, and the automation of the error-checking system helped to slash the costs of the launch.
It was the first orbital launch of a large rocket from the Uchinoura center since 2006.
To welcome spectators for the Sept. 14 launch, the town of Kimotsuki set up six sites for public viewing, as it did on Aug. 27. The Epsilon rocket first appeared from the assembly building as it was being transferred to the launch pad around 10:50 a.m.
After the aborted launch on Aug. 27, JAXA organized a special inspection team that rechecked all 2,000 items related to the liftoff.
On Sept. 8, the rocket was brought to the launch pad and put through a practice run up to the last five seconds before liftoff. Tests were also conducted for the first time right up to the scheduled time of the actual launch.
“We have confirmed that everything went well,” a JAXA official said before the launch.
(The article was written by Masanobu Higashiyama and Hiroki Koike.)
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