IST launched MOMO 5, a sounding rocket, in June 2020. IST’s launch services have not proceeded smoothly, with four out of five launches ending in failure. Nevertheless, IST is thought to be proceeding with research leading to improvement of its technology. Below is Nikkei’s interview with Takahiro Inagawa, CEO of Interstellar Technologies (IST).
Q: What are your thoughts on the results of the MOMO 5?
A: So far, only MOMO 3 has reached space, in 2019. The number [of successful launches] is very small. We need to increase our success rate, and we cannot repeat our failures. We are reviewing the manufacturing and inspection process for the engine nozzle, which we think caused the failure of the MOMO 5.
We are aiming for frequent launches of low-cost rockets with the MOMO. For commercial companies that carry out their own development of rockets, the frequent launch of low-cost rockets is the best way to reduce costs and effectively improve our technology. Because we are at the initial stage of [commercial companies in space exploration], we want to continue our challenge by learning from our failures.
Q: How do you secure funding amidst delays in commercializing the project?
A: We have secured funding through crowdfunding and individual investors. Having sponsors for launches will enable us to cover less of the cost with our own funds.
We will continue to approach various investors to collect funds. It is true that investors’ reactions changed when we succeeded in the launch of the MOMO 3. We will be able to hold discussions with more investors if the profitability of the project is on the horizon. We are at a standstill, but we plan to inject more funds and personnel [into the project].
Q: The development period of the next rocket was short, just about three months.
A: The number one reason is that we have more employees. We have hired aggressively since April 2020. We hired slightly fewer than 20 people ranging in age from their 20’s to 60’s.
In the space industry, there is not a lot of mobility in human resources. IST hires technical staff from a wide range of industries including the automotive and shipbuilding sectors. Knowledge or experience in the space industry is not always necessary if the person is a specialist in a particular area. We would like to continue hiring people towards the development of rockets to launch small satellites.
Q: What are you aiming for with the next launch?
A: It is very meaningful as a test launch to confirm whether we have resolved all the issues. We would like to show that we have achieved a production system that enables a high frequency of launches.