Witness the Takeoff of Japan’s H3 Rocket on its Return-to-Flight Mission Tonight

Japan’s newly developed H3 rocket, which experienced a catastrophic failure on its first test flight, is set to attempt a comeback. The launch, initially scheduled for February 14, was delayed due to poor weather conditions and is now slated for February 16. The launch will take place at the Tanegashima Space Center, and a live broadcast will be available through the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and on Space.com.

The H3’s maiden flight took place in March 2023, aiming to deliver the DAICHI-3 Earth-observation satellite into orbit. However, due to a failure in igniting the rocket’s second-stage engine, the mission resulted in the loss of the satellite. The H3’s upcoming flight will carry two small Earth-observation satellites, CE-SAT-IE and TIRSAT, to a sun-synchronous orbit. The primary payload, however, is a 5,900-pound (2,600-kilogram) mass simulator, which serves as a proxy for a larger, more valuable spacecraft.

The primary goal of this mission is to assess the H3 rocket’s performance and evaluate its payload deployment mechanism. The H3 rocket, developed by JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries over the past ten years, is designed to eventually replace Japan’s long-serving H-2A rocket, which first launched in 2001. Depending on the choice of payload fairing, the H3 rocket stands either 187 feet or 207 feet (57 or 63 meters) tall.

Despite the development of the H3, the H-2A is still in operation. For instance, just last month, it successfully launched the IGS Optical 8 spy satellite for the Japanese government. Furthermore, in September 2023, the H-2A was responsible for sending Japan’s SLIM lander to the moon. The SLIM successfully landed on the lunar surface on January 19, making Japan only the fifth nation to achieve a soft landing on the moon.

The success of the upcoming H3 launch is crucial for Japan’s space exploration endeavors, as the rocket represents the country’s latest technological advancement in spaceflight. The H3’s performance could significantly influence Japan’s future satellite deployments and other space missions.

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