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Japan attempts first privately-funded rocket launch

LiveMint logoLiveMint 31-07-2017 Naomi Schanen

Tokyo: Japan’s first privately-funded rocket took off on Sunday from a small platform on the northern island of Hokkaido, as a group of entrepreneurs attempted to join an elite club of enterprises that have commercialized space.

The 10-metre tall rocket, made by Interstellar Technologies Inc., failed to reach its target altitude of 100km and splashed into the ocean on Sunday, but its backers said they would try again. The start-up, founded by former Japanese internet maverick Takafumi Horie, designed and built the rocket, called Momo.

“The rocket got liftoff and flew, but unfortunately didn’t make it to space,” Horie said on his Facebook page. “But we were able to get valuable data and we’ll succeed next time.”

Momo’s backers, including a crowdfunding initiative that began a year ago, are aiming to make space more accessible through cheaper rockets, spurring more research and experimentation. Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has pioneered such endeavours, sending payloads from Nasa and private companies into orbit with its Falcon rockets. Up until now, Japan’s space efforts have been led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.

It reached an altitude of about 20km before the team on the ground lost contact, shutting down the engine 66 seconds into its flight. The launch had already been postponed from Saturday due to foggy weather and technical difficulties. Japanese media and spectators armed with Interstellar stickers and merchandise had gathered on a hill nearby Taiki Aerospace Research Field to watch the launch.

Interstellar used widely available parts and its own technologies to drive down the cost of the launch to less than 50 million yen ($441,000). By comparison, JAXA’s solid-rocket launches cost 200 million to 300 million yen. While Momo’s engines and capabilities aren’t as sophisticated as government or corporate-funded rockets, its backers are betting that its simplicity and low cost could make it a useful platform for aerospace experiments.

Interstellar started working on rockets a decade ago, and in the aftermath of Sunday’s launch is setting its sights on a new goal: developing a rocket that can carry a small satellite by 2020. Bloomberg

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