On the third-largest island of Japan, Kyushu, tucked into the beautifully lush and richly forested countryside of the Kagoshima Prefecture, the Uchinoura Space Center sits quietly. It absorbs the sound of wind in the trees as if meditating. Birds flock and flutter away when a launch begins; it rumbles the treetops and even bugs stop their songs until the tremendous power passes.
On October 12, 9:50 a.m. local Japan time, a 78-foot Japanese Epsilon rocket was launched. Everything was nominal until at 0957 a sudden error caused such a critical issue that the rocket and its payload had to, unfortunately, be detonated. It began veering off-course in a concerning manner and gave the crews no choice but to self-destruct.
The Epsilon payload was a number of CubeSats (Cube Satellites; small, compact satellites often used by schools, private, and government entities) and other equipment for private and government interests. This comes as a blow to JAXA which had been historically seeking to gain the trust and investment from private interests and government aspects.
JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said it was an undeniable setback and would affect various projects, but stressed the agency would “do its utmost to restore trust” in itself.
Investigators at JAXA are still solving the puzzle as to why exactly the rocket failed so critically near its third-stage beginning procedures. The rocket was used previously 5 times, making this the 6th (mostly successful) launch. It comes with a heavy heart that the “bye-bye” button had to be pressed.
This was the first flight for JAXA that contained private company satellites like the Fukuoka-based company, iQPS Inc.
JAXA is known for its strict standards and service record, along with its countless contributions to space exploration and understanding. Epsilon rockets are expensive to launch but they are known for their incredible reliability.
Luckily, no one was hurt, and no civilians, military, nor professional personnel were harmed. JAXA is somber over the loss of a highly decorated and staunch rocket design like the Epsilon.
Not only was this the first failure in Japanese rocketry since 2003, as a further testament to the rugged and stalwart design of the Epsilon, but it was also the very first Epsilon series failure recorded.
Always humble and willing to learn, JAXA has turned the Epsilon series into not only a powerfully small and ergonomic rocket but also provides better care to the Earth’s environment, and increases the practicality of satellite delivery by using solid fuels instead of liquid. This reduces the chances, theoretically, of life hazards to workers and personnel, and JAXA is implementing AI at every turn to make sure it can continue to be a streamlined project.
A project that runs itself, almost literally, is an incredible boon to the scientific community. The more workers and personnel freed from the use of operations means they can be retrained to handle other systems and operations, and theoretically remain at much safer distances and less exposure time to hazardous materials or procedures.
JAXA has tailored the Epsilon to use smaller, more compact payloads with the anticipation of small payloads in the future as technology refines itself. The goal is to usher in the idea of focusing on reducing carbon footprint, maximizing on-vehicle cargo spacing, and pushing the drive to further technology to constantly better itself. Like the Great Wave of Kanagawa, we shall break the shores of space discovery like a great, crashing wave of curiosity and innovation.