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EDITORIAL | Failed KAIROS Rocket Launch Only a Temporary Setback

Most important after KAIROS is to accept challenges. Continue to transition to public-private partnerships in the space business market.



Spectators near the launch site watch the smoke rise after the explosion in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture on March 13. (©Kyodo)

On the morning of Wednesday, March 13, the Tokyo-based venture firm SPACE ONE attempted to become the first Japanese company to put a satellite into orbit. Unfortunately, the inaugural launch of its small solid-fuel rocket KAIROS failed. The rocket exploded just seconds after takeoff from the "Spaceport Kii" launch site at Kushimoto in Wakayama Prefecture. 

A company spokesperson explained that the rocket had self-destructed. SPACE ONE was thus unable to send a small demonstration satellite belonging to the Japanese government into orbit as planned. 

The launch failure delivered a heavy blow to Japan's hopes to enter the lucrative international space business market. Nevertheless, for the sake of Japan's sustainable development of space, we must not halt in transitioning from government-led initiatives to public-private partnerships

What is most important now is to not let the burning desire to accept challenges die out.

The first small rocket KAIROS launched from the private rocket launch site Spaceport Kii (left). Five seconds later, the aircraft exploded (center) and debris scattered around the area (right). At 11:01 AM on March 13th. (© Kyodo by news helicopter)

Moving Forward from Failure

After all, the company SpaceX achieved the success it enjoys only after repeated failures. Today it plays a leading role in American space development and dominates the satellite launch business. 

SPACE ONE was founded in 2018. Establishing a low cost "space delivery system" that will cheaply transport satellites into space was its aim from the start. The company hopes to tap into a market for small satellite launches that is expected to continue to grow.

Company plans call for 30 rocket launches per year from the year 2030. This mirrors the Japanese government's own policy of achieving around 30 launches annually, including by private companies. It is also the level needed to gain market share in the space business. 

KAIROS was carrying a small government demonstration satellite, reflecting this desire for collaboration between the public and private sectors. 

SPACE ONE President Masakazu Toyoda (center) and others holding a press conference about KAIROS, which exploded immediately after launch on March 13. (© Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

Reinvigorating Japan's Private Sector

As things stand today, Japan's "private sector strength" in the field of space development has been far outpaced by that of US space ventures. If we are to close this gap, we will need to greatly invigorate and deepen interchanges and collaboration regarding technologies and human resources within the space sector. 

Japan's first successful satellite launch occurred in February 1970. That was when the satellite Ohsumi was sent aloft. Japan thereby became the fourth country to put a satellite in orbit, following the Soviet Union, the United States, and France. Two months later, China became the fifth. 

Naturally, technology has become more sophisticated since then. However, we must seriously consider that the technology used in private satellite launches essentially remains at the same level as it was more than half a century ago.

What is needed is a system that allows venture businesses to take advantage of space-related technologies developed through public initiatives. The attempted launch of the KAIROS should be considered a further step in the pursuit of that objective.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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