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13 March 2024

Japan’s first private rocket launch explodes shortly after take-off

13 March 2024

A rocket touted as Japan’s first from the private sector to go into orbit exploded shortly after take-off on Wednesday, livestreamed video showed.

Online video showed the rocket, called Kairos, blasting off from the mountainous Wakayama Prefecture in central Japan, exploding in mid-air within seconds.

A huge plume of smoke engulfed the area and flames shot up in some spots.

The video then showed spurts of water shot toward that spot in an effort to put out the blaze.

Live footage on public broadcaster NHK showed debris scattering from the sky. Later, charred pieces were shown strewn on the ground.

No injuries were reported and the fire was brought under control, according to the fire department for Kushimoto city in Wakayama prefecture.

The launch was halted five seconds after lift-off but the problem that was detected by the rocket’s automated system was unclear and still under investigation, according to Space One.

It occurred during step two of the launch, with the first step being lift-off, and all the pieces of the rocket landed on Space One’s property, the company said.

The firm’s president Masakazu Toyoda told reporters: “We are taking what happened in a positive way and remain prepared to take up the next challenge.”

The rocket was supposed to have sent a government-made satellite into orbit around Earth to gather various information, including monitoring possible dangers from rocket launches from neighbouring North Korea.

But one of its main purposes was for Japan to play catch-up as rocket launches here have fallen behind that of the US and China. The launch has been delayed several times.

Mr Toyoda and other officials stressed that space travel succeeds only after multiple failures. He even refused to call the aborted launch a failure, and declined to reveal the costs or when the investigation might be completed.

Had the launch succeeded, Space One would have been the first private company to put a rocket into orbit.

Tokyo-based Space One was set up in 2018 with investments from major Japanese companies, including Canon Electronics, IHI, Shimizu and major banks.

Japan’s main space exploration effort is led by the government’s National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA), the nation’s equivalent of Nasa of the US.

Firms based in Japan are aiming to become a larger part of the growing global space business, as exemplified by ventures abroad like Elon Musk’s Space X.

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