Japan celebrates safe launch after string of problems

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What a blast: last week's successful launch could put Japan's space programme back on track. Credit: NASDA

The successful launch of Japan's H-IIA rocket last week provided a welcome boost to the country's troubled rocket programme, before a crucial international launch later this year.

On 10 September, the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) used H-IIA to launch satellites designed to conduct data-relay and zero-gravity research. The H-IIA series and its predecessor, the H-II, have had several failures. The most recent occurred in February, when the rocket failed to release a ¥600-million (US$4.9-million) satellite designed to measure the impact of high temperatures during re-entry.

The next H-IIA launch, scheduled for later this year, will be a major test. It will carry the Advanced Earth Observing Satellite II, with detectors made by NASDA, NASA and the CNES, France's national space agency. They will monitor chlorophyll, water vapour, sea surface temperature, sea ice and ocean wind velocity.

The mission will also include Australia's first scientific satellite launch for 30 years. FedSat, designed by Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems, will carry out engineering, communication and science experiments.

NASDA hopes that more successes will help to establish Japan's space programme as commercially viable. It plans to turn over operations of the H-IIA to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the next two years.

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Cyranoski, D. Japan celebrates safe launch after string of problems. Nature 419, 236 (2002) doi:10.1038/419236b

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