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Japan's successful rocket launch boosts space program
With the third successful launch of the H-2B rocket, Japan has firmly established launching technology for large rockets, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.
The Yomiuri Shimbun
TOKYO — Japan's successful rocket launch over the weekend boosted the program's success rate, indicating the nation's satellite-launch technology is set to take off.
An H-2B rocket carrying the unmanned Kounotori 3 cargo vehicle bound for the international space station successfully lifted off Saturday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced.
The powerful H-2B No. 3, the nation's largest domestically made rocket, blasted off from JAXA's Tanegashima Space Center in the town of Minami-Tane, Kagoshima Prefecture.
This is the third time in a row the H-2B has been vaulted into orbit carrying the Kounotori cargo vehicle, after successful launches in September 2009 and January 2011.
The launch occurred despite rainy weather, with the rocket disappearing into the clouds just after liftoff. The cargo vehicle's separation from the H-2B was confirmed about 15 minutes later, control-room officials.
The Kounotori is to dock with the space station Friday night. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, 41, will carry out the task using the station's robotic arm in collaboration with an American colleague, according to JAXA.
With the third successful launch of the H-2B rocket, Japan has firmly established launching technology for large rockets, JAXA said.
After the decommissioning last year of U.S. space shuttles, the Kounotori has been gaining international attention as a way to transport large payloads into space, JAXA said.
The agency plans to transfer all future launches of the H-2B to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the rocket's manufacturer.
With a current lineup of its core H-2A product and the latest H-2B, Mitsubishi will aim to win orders for commercial launches of foreign satellites. However, competition is tough in the market, particularly with foreign rivals.
As the size of major geostationary satellites has increased to 5 to 6 tons in recent years, rockets used to launch such satellites have also become bigger.
"By adding the H-2B to our rocket lineup, we'll have more chances to receive orders to launch satellites," said an official of the company's space-venture department.
However, although Japanese rockets are of high quality, they are also costly. Currently, Russia, the United States and some European countries dominate the global market.
So far, Mitsubishi has won only one order, to launch a South Korean satellite with the H-2A rocket in May. The company still mainly relies on the Japanese government for launch orders.
Emerging competitors in the United States have adopted price-busting strategies and developed low-priced rockets, which have rapidly increased their presence in the industry.
On July 12, the Japanese government established a space-strategy office in the Cabinet Office, which supervises the nation's space policy. To help Japanese firms better compete with foreign rivals in the space business, the government needs to develop support measures.