Japanese satellite launch facing weeks-long delay

Japan’s fifth Epsilon rocket, originally set for liftoff Sept. 30, is visible inside a gantry structure at the Uchinoura Space Center. Credit: JAXA

The launch of a solid-fueled Japanese Epsilon rocket with nine small satellites, originally scheduled to blastoff last week, has been grounded until after the flight of a larger H-2A launcher later this month, Japan’s space agency said Friday.

The Epsilon rocket was supposed to blast off Sept. 30 (U.S. time) from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima prefecture. Officials scrubbed that launch attempt less than a minute before liftoff due to a balky connector on a mobile radar tracking system.

Teams geared up for a second launch attempt Wednesday, but managers called off the countdown because of unfavorable high-altitude winds over the space center.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Friday that the near-term weather forecast is “not suitable” for launch of the Epsilon rocket. Facing a unfavorable weather conditions, JAXA decided to ground the Epsilon rocket until after the liftoff of a previously-scheduled Japanese H-2A rocket Oct. 24 (U.S. time).

The H-2A rocket is larger than the Epsilon, and it is based at the Tanegashima Space Center around 60 miles south of the Uchinoura launch base. But both rockets share common equipment and facilities, such as ground tracking infrastructure, and JAXA is giving priority to the H-2A mission.

A new launch date for the Epsilon rocket will be announced after the H-2A rocket flight, JAXA said.

The 85-foot-tall (26-meter) Epsilon rocket’s first stage is derived from the solid rocket booster used on the H-2A launch vehicle. The Epsilon, developed by the Japanese company IHI Aerospace, has been launched sparingly since its debut in 2013. But all four Epsilon launches to date have been successful.

The largest payload on the fifth Epsilon flight is JAXA’s 242-pound (110-kilogram) Rapid Innovative Payload Demonstration Satellite 2, or RAISE 2, technology demonstration satellite.

There are eight smaller experimental microsatellites and CubeSats aboard the rocket from universities and institutions in Japan and Vietnam.

The payload on the H-2A rocket set to launch from Tanegashima is QZS 1R, a replacement satellite for Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, which provides regional navigation services over the Asia-Pacific region. The QZS 1R navigation satellite, built by Mitsubishi Electric Corp., will replace the aging QZS 1 satellite launched in 2010.

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