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Japan launches flagship H3 rocket, boosting its comeback in space

The second launch of Japan’s flagship rocket went smoothly as it carried a satellite toward low-Earth orbit.

The H3 heavy payload vehicle took off with no crew aboard shortly after noon local time from Tanegashima Space Centre.

“We have a successful lift-off,” Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) commentators said during a live broadcast.

The rocket, which had its first mission early this year, was carrying the Advanced Land Observing Satellite, or ALOS-4, which is equipped with radar technology used to monitor weather and natural disasters. ALOS-4 was delivered to low-Earth orbit roughly 16 minutes after take-off, JAXA said.


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The H3 doesn’t yet have the track record to promise clients a timely and cost-effective alternative for clients looking to reach orbit. But it could be the island nation’s best chance at competing in a crowded field dominated by heavy hitters like SpaceX.

The 63-metre-tall single-use, heavy payload vehicle was manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

Its predecessor successfully launched 47 out of 48 times over the past two decades, according to JAXA, but only two of the previous rockets remain, meaning the old guard will pass on the mantle very soon.

“The H3 needs to carry on that legacy,” JAXA Director Hiroshi Yamakawa told reporters earlier this month at a press conference in Tokyo. “We need to demonstrate that it can deliver payloads to orbit on time and with great accuracy.”

The agency has suffered a series of costly blunders and major setbacks, starting with the explosion of its smaller Epsilon rocket in late 2022.

JAXA attempted to launch the H3 in March 2023 but a system failure between the side