Connect with us

Economy & Tech

EDITORIAL | H3 Rocket's Mission After Successful Launch is National Security

The initial H3 launch failed in 2023, making this launch more important than ever for Japan's economic security and international participation in space.



The second H3 rocket carried a mock satellite and two microsatellites from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture. (© Kyodo via Wire Press helicopter on February 17)

Japan's next-generation flagship rocket, the H3, is expected to play a vital role in Japan's space development efforts. Significantly, it has finally achieved a successful launch. 

"A tremendous weight has been lifted from our shoulders. Now it's 'game on' for the H3."

That is how Masashi Okada of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reacted following the successful launch of the second H3 rocket on February 17. He is the project manager at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture. 

Why Success Was So Important

The initial launch attempt for the H3 failed in March of 2023. That left only two of the current mainstay model H2A in Japan's rocket inventory. Moreover, the retirement of that orbital launcher family is looming.

The worst-case scenario of Japan's total lack of mainstay rockets has thus been avoided for the time being. Plaudits go to JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for staging such an admirable comeback after the humiliating failure of the first H3 rocket launch less than a year ago. 

JAXA project manager Masashi Okada (right) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries project manager Mayuki Niitsu smile and shake hands after the press conference held after the launch of the second H3 rocket. On the afternoon of February 17, at Tanegashima Space Center in Minamitane-cho, Kagoshima Prefecture. (©Sankei by Kan Emori)

Nonetheless, the H3 is now in a position like a runner who, after stumbling at the starting line, manages to get back on his feet. The field of commercial space launches is expected to grow. For Japan to compete, it must build on this foundation and accumulate success with the third and subsequent spacecraft in the H3 series.

Commercial Use Behind H3 Design

The development process for the expendable-type H3 rocket emphasized low cost and ease of use. That would have allowed Japan to get a foothold in the lucrative satellite launching market. They aimed to slash the cost for a single launch from approximately ¥10 billion JPY ($66.5 million USD) for the earlier H2A, to only around ¥5 billion. 

However, without reliability and a proven track record, cost and ease of use will not count for much. To restore trust among potential customers, it is important to continue the efforts made over the past year. The investigation into the causes of the previous launch failure must continue, followed by a review and strengthening of the safety evaluation system. 


During 2023's aborted launch, the command was given to self-destruct after the second-stage engine failed to ignite. Nevertheless, the cause for the failure has not been determined. 

For this most recent launch, measures were in place to deal with all three possible scenarios. 

JAXA project manager Masashi Okada gives a thumbs up in front of a poster of the H3 rocket No 2 in a press conference on the afternoon of February 17. At the Tanegashima Space Center. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

Catching Up and Staying Ahead

This time, the same ignition system was used this time as was used in engines for the highly successful H2A rocket series. Nevertheless, we should strive to increase the reliability of the H3 as a mainstay rocket. That requires identifying the cause of the past failure and thoroughly ferreting out risks lurking behind the latest success. 

Originally, the aim was to launch the first H3 in 2020. However, difficulties were encountered during development, followed by the launch failure for the first H3. That considerably delayed the project's timetable. 

In the meantime, the US firm SpaceX managed to establish itself as the dominant player in the satellite launch market. Meanwhile, on the international scene, the importance of a country's core rockets is growing from the perspective of military and economic security

For both the public and private sectors, contributing to national security is the most important mission for the H3 to achieve. In addition, a new strategy must be devised for the development of space business. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


Our Partners