Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aborted the launch of a mini rocket on Sunday due to communication malfunctions. This would have been the first flight of the smallest satellite-carrying rocket.
The SS-520-4 is a three-stage rocket with the size of a telephone pole. It was going to launch from Uchinoura Space Center at 8:33 a.m Japan Time on January 15 (6:33 p.m. EST on Saturday, Jan. 14). However, there was a communication problem and it forced the Japanese agency to cancel the ignition of the rocket’s second stage. The rocket and its payload fell into the sea.
“It’s very regrettable. We’d like to determine the cause” of the failure, said Hiroto Habu, an associate professor at JAXA after the event.
The rocket’s first stage went fine but then it didn’t send signals
According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the first stage of the SS-520-4 rocket performed as it had to, but then there was a communication malfunction that led to the abortion of the rocket’s second stage.
The flight controllers couldn’t receive signals from the rocket. Therefore they took that decision. The rocket and the Earth observation microsatellite it was carrying –which is called TRICOM1 – fell to the sea southeast of the Uchinoura center Japan’s Kagoshima Prefecture.
The mission was aborted three minutes after the launch which occurred on 8:33 am Japan Time; however, the rocket stopped emitting signals 20 seconds after launch.
This was the Nº 4 vehicle of the SS-520 rocket series that became the world’s smallest rocket capable of carrying a satellite. At the moment, the agency has no plans to launch a rocket this size again. They will try to find what happened with the rocket.
“The cause of the failure is not known at all yet. All we can do is just analyze the data we got until communications were disrupted,” said Shinya Matsuura, a writer familiar with rocket development. “I hope they won’t be discouraged and will try another launch because demand for launches of minisatellites is growing worldwide.”
The world’s tiniest satellite-carrying rocket
This rocket was 10 meters long with 50 cm in diameter. It weighs 2.9 tons. It is one-fifth the size of JAXA’s main rocket, the H-IIA. The SS-520-4 is a three-stage rocket designed by JAXA to place a satellite of even 4 kg into orbit at an altitude of 2000 km. it has an approximate cost of ¥500 million ($4.3 million), which is quite cheap for a rocket.
Jaxa accepted the mission to demonstrate the cost-cutting potential for satellite launches using tools that can be found in home electronics to inspire people and private groups to enter the space launch business.
The satellite it was carrying weighed 3kg, and it measured 10 cm by 10 cm by 35 cm. It was called TRICOM1, and it was developed by students of the University of Tokyo to transmit images of Earth’s surface for about a month before entering back into the atmosphere.
Tough the tiny rocket launch failed, it demonstrates that it is possible to create satellite-carrying rockets this size. Maybe this is the beginning of a new era of “nano launchers” rockets.