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Japan successfully launches low-cost Epsilon rocket for 3rd time

  • January 18, 2018
  • , Kyodo News , 4:49 p.m.
  • English Press

KAGOSHIMA, Japan — Japan successfully launched its low-cost Epsilon rocket Thursday morning to put a small earth observation satellite into orbit, with the third such flight proving the viability of the Japanese technology, the country’s space agency said.


The rocket carrying the ASNARO-2 radar satellite developed by NEC Corp. lifted off from the Uchinoura Space Center in southwestern Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture at 6:06 a.m., releasing the satellite around 7 a.m., the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.


The Epsilon solid fuel rocket, which is equipped with artificial intelligence technology that reduces labor and launch costs, can be controlled from the ground by just two computers.


Compared with its predecessor, the M5 rocket, which was retired in 2006, the Epsilon-3 cut launch costs by one-third to some 5 billion yen ($45 million), said JAXA, adding that it aims to further reduce the costs to 3 billion yen.


The 26-meter-long three-stage rocket allows reduced operating costs and more frequent launches than the mainstay H-2A and H-2B rockets which burn liquid propellants.


On Thursday, it carried a private satellite for the first time, with the previous two Epsilon rockets transporting JAXA satellites in 2013 and 2016.


JAXA said it foresees demand increasing for launches of small satellites, and hopes the successful flight of Epsilon-3 will help boost orders.


“We aim to strengthen our competitiveness in launching small satellites,” JAXA President Naoki Okumura told a press conference.


The ASNARO-2 satellite, developed by NEC with support from the industry ministry, is able to identify objects as small as 1 meter wide on the ground and capture images at night and when there is cloud cover.


NEC will provide pictures of areas affected by disasters or deforestation to research institutes and local governments.


Many space enthusiasts and local residents gathered to see off the rocket. Following the liftoff, they observed a contrail shining in red, blue and white colors that resembled aurora in the predawn sky.


The rocket launch was initially planned for November but was postponed due to a technical problem. It was rescheduled for Wednesday but bad weather forced the launch to be put off for an extra day.

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