Japan Epsilon Rocket Launch Halted Due To 'Attitude Abnormality'
August 27, 2013

Japanese Epsilon Rocket Launch Halted Due To Attitude Abnormality

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was dealt another setback in its attempts to launch its first new rocket in 12 years. The Epsilon Launch Vehicle (Epsilon-1) was set to launch today at 1:45 p.m. local time from Japan’s Uchinoura Space Center but was canceled within seconds of lift-off.

This was the second setback this month for the Epsilon rocket. An earlier launch was postponed due to a computer glitch. While there remains no official word on what caused the cancellation of today’s launch, JAXA said in a statement that “an attitude abnormality was detected approximately 19 seconds prior to liftoff time during automatic countdown sequence.” JAXA said it is investigating the cause and there is no word on when another launch attempt may be made.

The countdown was being broadcast live over the Internet, with commentary in Japanese and English. But by countdown’s end, nothing had happened. The rocket is scheduled to launch the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) telescope into orbit.

The three-stage rocket – named for the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet – stands 80 feet tall and weighs roughly 100 tons. Epsilon has been touted as a new, low-cost alternative to Japan’s other workhorses: the H2A rocket, which is nearly twice the size of Epsilon; and the solid-fuel M-5 rocket, which was retired in 2006 due to its high cost.

Epsilon is equipped with artificial intelligence “for the first time in the world” that allows for autonomous checks by the rocket itself, JAXA said in a statement to AFP.

"It also allows us to carry out launching procedures, including ignition, through only two laptop computers," another JAXA spokeswoman said.

As well, only eight workers are needed for the launch operation of the Epsilon, compared with some 150 people usually employed during past JAXA launches.

Analysts said it is not clear yet how much of an impact the today’s launch failure will have on Japan’s ambitions to become a satellite launch powerhouse.

"This was the first flight and it was already postponed once and now will be postponed again," Yukihiro Kumagai, an analyst at Jefferies & Co securities in Tokyo, told Elaine Lies of Reuters. "Inevitably, this will raise some questions, but overall it is unlikely to have much influence," he added, noting the Epsilon is not scheduled for another flight until 2015.

The US has long held a monopoly on satellite launches, but its dominance has been waning in recent years as other countries, namely France, have been seeing a strong push in launches. Arianespace – based in Courcouronnes, France -- reported revenue earnings in excess of $1.5 billion (US) in 2012, securing itself as a launch powerhouse.

As well, Russia has a host of rockets used for satellite launches. However, a series of recent launch failures there may have damaged its reputation as a reliable launch provider. Most recently, an attempted Proton-M rocket launch on July 2, 2013 failed to put the country’s GLONASS satellite into orbit.

California-based SpaceX has also moved into the spotlight as a reliable launch provider after a series of successful Dragon cargo launches to the International Space Station.

India and China also provide launch services to some extent.