Japan Attempts First Rocket Launch to Join SpaceX

Japan's Answer to SpaceX Launches First Rocket

Japan's first privately-funded rocket took off on Sunday from a small platform on the northern island of Hokkaido, as a group of entrepreneurs attempted to join an elite club of enterprises that have commercialized space.

The 10-meter tall rocket, made by Interstellar Technologies Inc., failed to reach its target altitude of 100 kilometers and splashed into the ocean on Sunday, but its backers said they would try again.  The startup, founded by former Japanese internet maverick Takafumi Horie, designed and built the rocket, called Momo.

The MOMO rocket lifts off from a test site on July 30.
Photographer: Kyodo News via Getty Images

"The rocket got liftoff and flew, but unfortunately didn't make it to space," Horie said on his Facebook page. "But we were able to get valuable data and we'll succeed next time."

Read more about Asia's space race

Momo's backers, including a crowdfunding initiative that began a year ago, are aiming to make space more accessible through cheaper rockets, spurring more research and experimentation. Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has pioneered such endeavors, sending payloads from NASA and private companies into orbit with its Falcon rockets. Up until now, Japan’s space efforts have been led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.

It reached an altitude of about 20 kilometers before the team on the ground lost contact, shutting down the engine 66 seconds into its flight. The launch had already been postponed from Saturday due to foggy weather and technical difficulties. Japanese media and spectators armed with Interstellar stickers and merchandise had gathered on a hill nearby Taiki Aerospace Research Field to watch the launch.  

Interstellar used widely available parts and its own technologies to drive down the cost of the launch to less than 50 million yen ($441,000). By comparison, JAXA’s solid-rocket launches cost 200 million to 300 million yen. While Momo’s engines and capabilities aren't as sophisticated as government or corporate-funded rockets, its backers are betting that its simplicity and low cost could make it a useful platform for aerospace experiments.

Interstellar started working on rockets a decade ago, and in the aftermath of Sunday's launch is setting its sights on a new goal: developing a rocket that can carry a small satellite by 2020.

Japan's Answer to SpaceX Launches First Rocket

 

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