Japan's sixth Epsilon rocket mission fails

The rocket took off smoothly but struggled around the time when the third stage was supposed to kick in.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Epsilon rocket take off.jpg
Epsilon rocket take off.

JAXA 

Japan failed its first orbital launch of 2022, according to a statement provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Wednesday.

An Epsilon rocket destroyed

“JAXA launched the Epsilon rocket No. 6 equipped with QPS-SAR-3, and QPS-SAR-4 from the Uchinoura Space Observatory at 09:50:43 (Japan standard time) on October 12, 2022, but at the time of judging whether or not to separate the 2/3 stage, it deviated from the target altitude. Judging that it could not be put into orbit around the Earth, it sent a command and a destruction signal to the rocket at 9:57:11, and the launch failed,” said the press release in Japanese. (Translation provided by Google).

“We sincerely apologize for not being able to meet the expectations of the local community and everyone else involved, as well as those involved in the satellites on board. Currently, we have established a task force headed by President Yamakawa and have begun investigating the cause. The status of the investigation will be announced at any time.”

The mission was known as Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration 3 and at first it looked to be going as planned. The solid rocket's first two stages performed nominally, but problems seemed to arise around the time when the third stage was supposed to kick in. This resulted in mission controllers activating Epsilon's flight termination system, which effectively destroyed the rocket in the air.

Now the Japanese space agency has launched an investigation to figure out exactly what went wrong and what (and perhaps who) was responsible for the mission's failure.

Japan's sixth Epsilon rocket mission fails
An Epsilon rocket in action.

Mission payloads

Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration 3 was supposed to send one main satellite into orbit called RAISE 3 (Rapid Innovative Payload Demonstration Satellite 3). RAISE 3 consists of a 240-pound (110 kilograms) craft that was equipped with seven technology-testing payloads: two experimental thrusters, one of which would use water as fuel; a satellite-deorbiting drag sail; a deployable power-generating membrane structure that also doubles as an antenna; telecom tech; a high-speed software receiver; and a commercial graphics processing unit.

In addition, five tiny cubesats were also onboard the 78-foot-tall (24 meters) Epsilon rocket as rideshare payloads. The event marks the sixth mission for the Epsilon rocket but only the first failure.

Five previous missions went as planned in September 2013, December 2016, January 2018, January 2019 and November 2021.

JAXA's Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration Program, which aims to promote the development of new and improved Japanese space tech, was responsible for this latest mission as well as the two before it. There’s no word yet as to whether JAXA’s investigation will focus on this department in particular but considering it led the launch this could very well be the case.

The investigation team will have to figure out why two previous missions ran successfully and why this one ultimately failed. The information gathered during this investigation will likely help to inform future missions to avoid such detrimental outcomes again.

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