After a 3-week delay due to technical issues, Japan’s brand-new Epsilon rocket finally launched into space on Saturday Sept. 14, carrying the SPRINT-A satellite into orbit to bring better images of Venus, Mars and Jupiter. The new “smart” solid-fuel rocket raced into the sky at 2:00 PM local time (1:00 AM ET), hopefully to start a generation of lower costs for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), as the Epsilon rocket is billed to be highly automated and is able to run self-checks on its own.
“One of the features of Epsilon is that rockets can be built in a very short time period. I hope Epsilon will carry satellites more frequently, perhaps every month, not once a year,” said Tetsuya Ono, a member of the Epsilon project team at JAXA. The low-cost nature of the launch meant that Epsilon rocket launches are projected to cost JAXA less than US$40 million, a miserly amount compared to the US$450 million cost of each NASA launch. Granted that the payload of the Epsilon is smaller than the NASA space vehicles, JAXA wants to set the standard for small to medium payload low-cost space launches.
To save on the cost, JAXA has made a special AI on the onboard computers that allow the Epsilon rocket to perform its own self-checks. This drastically reduced the amount of people needed to coordinate the launch itself – from a traditional 150 staff to only eight for the Epsilon rocket. Also, the launch was coordinated mainly using only two high-powered consumer laptop computers. JAXA initially attempted to launch the Epsilon rocket on Aug. 27, but a computer synchronization issue forced the agency to abort the test flight 19 seconds before liftoff. On Saturday though, the high-tech rocket performed flawlessly, launching the new SPRINT-A satellite into orbit and giving scientists a better view of the magnetic fields and atmospheres of solar system planets.
[via Huffington Post]
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