Japan launches low-cost rocket

Rocket can be assembled quickly, enabling operators to cut personnel and equipment costs

Japan’s first new rocket in 12 years lifted off today, after two setbacks last month, keeping alive hopes that the country may eventually be able to enter the growing, multi-billion dollar satellite launch industry.

The rocket lifted off at 2pm carrying a telescope for observation of the solar system from space.

The three-stage rocket named Epsilon is about half the size of Japan’s existing H2A rocket and has been touted as a new, low-cost alternative.

A previous planned launch last month was halted 19 seconds before countdown because of a computer glitch.

The successful launch moved Japan a step closer to its goal of cashing in on the international satellite launch industry.

The rocket’s smaller size and a computer system that allows it to perform its own systems checks means it can be assembled quickly, enabling operators to cut personnel and equipment costs.

Launch control can be carried out using conventional desktop computers, reducing costs and making the launches more mobile since they could take place at more sites.

US companies had a monopoly on the commercial launch business 30 years ago, but their hold has steadily declined, with most of the business going to the France-based Arianespace, a public-private European partnership that in 2012 reported revenue of 1.3 billion euros.

The market has been shaken up by the recent entry of the California-based Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX.

Russia also markets a variety of rockets for space launches. Its workhorse Soyuz spaceships have been the only vehicles delivering crews to the ISS since the US Space Shuttle fleet was retired from service in 2011.

India and China also provide launch services to some extent.