Japan’s Office of National Space Policy has announced its intentions to build a new mainline space launch rocket to replace the highly-reliable H2A rocket, with the new rocket’s development set to begin next year, targeting a first launch around 2020. With this new rocket, the Japanese government hopes to enter the impending commercial boom of heavier satellites – designed for longer life cycles in orbit – being launched into space, in addition to sending up government satellites.
“We’re aiming for (a first launch) around 2020, when new rockets from overseas are expected to start appearing,” Hiroshi Yamakawa, head of the Space Transport System Section at the office and professor of space engineering at Kyoto University. The H2A has had a very successful life-cycle, launching 22 information-gathering, environmental-observation and other satellites for the government. With only one failed launch, the 95 percent success rate has made the Japanese rocket it a standard for reliability around the world. The weak point in the H2A’s career however, is that it has been largely absent from the commercial field, such as launching commercial communications and broadcast satellites or satellites for foreign countries, launching only one such satellite – a South Korean multipurpose satellite in 2012.
Current and future satellites are increasingly being built for long-term use, adding more weight and bulk with additional fuel and batteries. Japan has been slow to adapt to the increased size, as the H2A was built to handle only four tons of weight, lacking the power to put communications and broadcast satellites and other five-ton satellites into geostationary orbit. The new rocket will be designed to address this main issue. The cost per launch is also one of the main reasons why Japan has not been part of this market yet – it costs roughly 10 billion yen (approx. 102 million dollars) to launch each rocket, and foreign companies are turned off by the cost. Russian and Chinese rockets are cheaper, and a US start-up company also developed the Falcon 9 in 2010, which launch costs are about half as expensive as the H2A. A cheaper version of the highly successful European Ariane 5 rocket is also expected to be operational by 2021. The rocket’s launch site in French Guiana, near the equator in South America, is very convenient for putting communications and broadcast satellites into geostationary orbit. Japan hopes that by 2020, the new rocket will be available to join this lucrative race to space.
[via Asia One]
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