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Japan successfully launches H3 rocket

February 17, 2024

Japan's space agency, JAXA, successfully launched its next-generation H3 rocket into orbit after facing some initial setbacks.

An H3 rocket lifts off at Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan
JAXA said the H3 rocket launch seemed to be successfulImage: Kyodo News/AP/picture alliance

Japan successfully launched its next-generation H3 rocket Saturday, almost one year after  two failed attempts previously.

The country's space agency, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said the rocket's initial flight has been smooth as planned.

The H3 rocket launched from Tanegashima Space Center at 9:22 am local time (0022 GMT).

The announcement of the rocket's successful orbit was met with cheers throughout the space agency's control center.

The rocket has released all its payloads, which includes two microsatellites, the space agency said.

"We feel so relieved to be able to announce the good results," JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference.

"We made a big first step today toward achieving that goal," Yamakawa said.

Overcoming earlier failed launches

Saturday's launch comes two days later than planned due to weather-related delays. 

Last year in February, the launch was abandoned due to ignition issues. Then the following month, the launcher's engine did not ignite in space and a destruct command had to be issued.

JAXA president Hiroshi Yamakawa saying that he was happy and "never felt so relieved."

Jointly built by JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the rocket is designed to carry heavier payloads for cheaper to space. 

The next-generation H3 is seen as a cost-effective competitor to Space X's Falcon 9.

"The H3 rocket has a unique and novel first-stage engine that delivers greater thrust compared to state-of-the-art rockets," Michele Trenti, director of the Melbourne Space Laboratory at the University of Melbourne, said.

Japan on the space race map

The latest success bolsters Japan's credentials as the global space race heats up.

In 2025, the H3 rocket is slated to deliver a lunar explorer for the joint Japan-India LUPEX project and, at a future date, will carry a cargo spacecraft for the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration program.

Japan successfully landed its SLIM spacecraft, nicknamed the "Moon Sniper," on the lunar surface last month although its solar panels being misaligned.

Japan releases images of 'pinpoint' moon landing

ss/lo (AP, AFP, Reuters)