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SPACE ONE Rocket Explodes Seconds After Launch

The governor of Wakayama, where the launch site is located, said that the attempt still represented progress. SPACE ONE is investigating the cause of failure.



The small rocket KAIROS before it exploded on March 13. (From the official YouTube channel of Wakayama Telecasting Corp)

The launch attempt of SPACE ONE's KAIROS rocket from Spaceport Kii in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, was a milestone event for Japan's private space industry. Unfortunately, the mission ended abruptly as the rocket exploded shortly after takeoff on March 13 at 11:01:12 am JST. Had it succeeded, SPACE ONE would have become Japan's first private company to send a satellite into orbit. 

The launch had already been postponed from the original date of March 9. A ship had entered a nearby restricted sea area and could not be moved out in time.

KAIROS was carrying a "short-term launch-type small satellite" from the government's Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center. The team had planned to conduct a test to evaluate the feasibility of using small satellites instead of government intelligence satellites. 

KAIROS explodes shortly after liftoff, spewing debris and smoke. (©Kyodo)

In response to the incident, SPACE ONE's President Masakazu Toyoda held a press conference on the afternoon of March 13. "We terminated Kairos' flight safely, and no third parties were harmed," he stated, adding that the company would like to "take positive lessons [from the failed launch] and face the next challenge."

Wakayama Prefecture's Governor Shuhei Kishimoto expressed optimism for SPACE ONE's future efforts. He said, "Even if it flew for just five seconds, it's still progress. We want to continue supporting and cheering on [the team] as much as possible toward success." 

SPACE ONE President Masakazu Toyoda speaks at a press conference on the afternoon of March 13. Nachikatsuura, Wakayama Prefecture. (©Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

Unwavering Support

Upon hearing of the failure, disappointed sighs were heard at Tawara Beach, which served as an observation area. Spectators had gathered early in the morning to watch the launch. 

Taichi Katsumi, a university student from Osaka Prefecture, said, "I heard a roaring sound, but then it went quiet. That's when I knew that something was wrong." He added, "I really hope they launch another rocket. When that time comes, I'll come see it again."

A volunteer group called "Wakayama Rocket Supporters," formed in 2022 with around 110 members, regularly cleans the coast near the rocket launch site. It also made special banners for the launch day, which were displayed around Tawara Beach. A member of the group said, "It's disappointing, but we will continue to support them." 

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

SPACE ONE aims to launch rockets about 20 times a year in the 2020s. The Japanese government aims to launch around 30 rockets in the early 2030s, including private ones. It is not clear whether the failed launch of KAIROS will have an impact on this goal. 

The global space development market continues to expand, with the number of rocket launches worldwide in 2023 reaching 212, three times that of 2013. Of these, 96 were conducted by the private American company SpaceX. Japan had only two launches in 2023, and neither were private.


Author: JAPAN Forward


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