Inaugural Launch of Japan’s H3 Rocket Scrubbed at Liftoff

Inaugural Launch of Japan’s H3 Rocket Scrubbed at Liftoff

Japan was just a moment away from the inaugural launch of its new H3 rocket when the launch was scrubbed. The main engine started, but not the side-mounted Solid Rocket Boosters. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, and its industry partners are investigating what went wrong.

The launch was scheduled for 8:37:55 pm Eastern Standard Time (10:37:55 am February 17 Japan Standard Time) from the Tanegashima Space Center.  The countdown proceeded as planned and the main engine ignited at T-6 seconds, but at the moment it should have lifted off, the side-mounted boosters, SRB-3s, did not.

In a press release hours later, JAXA said “during the automatic countdown operations, an anomaly was found in the first stage system and ignition signals for SRB-3s were not sent.”

At left, the H3 rocket still on the launch pad  at the Tanegashima Space Center after the launch was scrubbed. February 16, 2023 EST. Screengrab.

The two-stage H3 rocket is 63 meters (207 feet) tall with a diameter of 5.2 meters (17 feet). Several configurations are available that can place as much as 4,000 kilograms (8,800 pounds) into sun-synchronous orbit or 7,900 kg (17,400 lbs) into geosynchronous transfer orbit. This inaugural launch uses two SRB-3s.

H3 rocket variants. Credit: JAXA

Not only is H3 more powerful than Japan’s existing H-IIB, but offers more flexibility, lower cost, and greater reliability according to JAXA.  The main engine is built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the SRBs by IHI Aerospace.

The liquid-fueled H3 rocket with two side-mounted SRB-3 Solid Rocket Boosters minutes before the scrubbed inaugural launch February 16, 2023 EST (February 17 Japan Standard Time). Screengrab

The payload for this launch is the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3, ALOS-3, also called Daichi-3. The 3-ton satellite will be placed in a sun-synchronous orbit and can provide 0.8 meter (31 inch) panchromatic or 3.2 meter (126 inch) multispectral imagery with a 70 meter (230 feet) swath width.

Illustration of the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3, or Daichi-3. Credit: JAXA

Today’s scrub is the latest setback for the new rocket. The program began in 2014 and this first launch was supposed to take place in 2020, but challenges developing the LE-9 main engine — an expander bleed cycle engine — led to the delay.

Japan has expansive plans for the H3, not just replacing the H-II series with a rocket that is more competitive on the world market, but can be used to take payloads as far as the Moon in support of the NASA-led Artemis program.

Japan and the United States are long-time partners in space science and exploration. Japan’s Prime Minister visited NASA in November and reaffirmed his country’s commitment not only to the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata is aboard right now), but the Gateway space station that will orbit the Moon as part of Artemis. The H3 will replace H-II in sending HTV cargo resupply missions to the ISS and Japan hopes to use it for logistical support of Gateway, too.


This article has been updated.

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