Japan’s next-generation rocket reaches orbit a year after failed debut flight

H3 rocket delivered a test payload into space

The H3 rocket lifts off from Tanegashima Space Centre in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, on Saturday. EPA
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Japan's space agency successfully launched its H3 rocket into orbit on Saturday, almost a year after its debut flight ended in failure.

The launch marks a crucial step forward for Japan's space programme, as the rocket has a much higher capacity for payloads and costs about half the price to develop, at $33 million, than its predecessor, the H2A rocket.

H3, a 63-metre rocket produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, lifted off from a spaceport on Tanegashima Island, successfully completed the separation stages and delivered a demonstration payload into space.

"The launch vehicle flew as planned, and the second stage of the H3 launch vehicle was injected into the predetermined orbit," Japan's space agency (Jaxa) said in a statement.

A higher payload capacity means the rocket can carry more or larger satellites into orbit, compared to the H2A.

The launch is expected to help Japan play a larger role in the competitive satellite-launch market, which was valued at $13.63 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $47.3 billion by 2032.

H3's launch was broadcast live on Jaxa's YouTube channel, with more than 220,000 people tuning in from around the world.

The H2A rocket has been operating since 2001 and has a reliable launch success rate.

It has carried several Japanese and foreign payloads into space, including the UAE's KhalifaSat satellite in 2018 and the Emirati-built Hope probe, which is currently studying the orbit of Mars.

Japan's government has increased funding of the national space programme, with a $6.6 billion boost that was reportedly promised to Jaxa.

Japan recently made headlines by becoming the fifth nation to reach the surface of the Moon.

It placed its Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon (Slim) on the lunar surface on January 19.

It was beaming back data despite landing upside down. On February 1, the lander was put to sleep to survive the freezing temperatures of the lunar night.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 10:55 AM