Credit: SpaceOne

Space One's maiden rocket launch failed on Wednesday in a setback for the company as it looks to become the first private venture in Japan to put a satellite into orbit and secure a slice of the fast-growing space business. A live broadcast showed the rocket blasting off amid huge clouds of white smoke. But about five seconds later, the rocket exploded, sending fiery debris into the surrounding mountainous landscape. Footage appeared to show a fire breaking out in the mountain and attempts to extinguish it.

The explosion appeared to occur around the middle of the fuselage. Space One said the flight was intentionally terminated. "A mid-flight termination procedure was carried out. We are looking into the situation," it said in a statement shortly after the failure. The 18-meter, 23-tonne Kairos rocket was carrying a small intelligence satellite weighing 100 kilograms, which was intended to be inserted into orbit about 500 km above the Earth's surface.

The launch site was developed and is operated by Space One. Space One was founded in 2018. The company's goal is to become a low-cost, quick-response commercial launch service with 20 annual launches. It aims to offer the world's most frequent launch service with the shortest lead times between order and launch.

The satellite on board the rocket was meant enable the Japanese government to launch and operate small satellites quickly in case problems arise with existing spy satellites. Space One has said that the three-stage rocket is capable of putting a 150 kg payload into sun-synchronous orbit or a 250 kg payload into low Earth orbit. In addition to the three solid-fuel stages, the rocket has an additional liquid fuel 'kick stage' to inject the payload into its trajectory more accurately.

Space One builds on the capabilities of its two largest shareholders: Canon Electronics, an electronic components maker, and IHI, a rocket engine maker. Canon Electronics helped lower production costs and develop the company's mass production capabilities, while IHI worked on developing the rocket and the integrating various components.

IHI has been building solid-fuel rockets for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, including the small Epsilon rocket and boosters for Japan's main launch vehicles, the H3 and H2A. The U.S. dominates the market for launch services, with SpaceX's Falcon 9 for large payloads and Rocket Lab's Electron for small payloads. But that has not stopped Space One from pursuing the development of its own rocket. It believes the growth of commercial space activity will create demand for its launch services.

While most major rockets use liquid fuel, China's state-owned and commercial companies have used solid-fuel rockets for launch from the ground and a sea platform. Chinese solid-fuel rockets include Orientspace's Gravity-1, iSpace's Hyperbola-1 and CAS Space's Lijian-1. Located at the tip of a mountainous peninsula, the launch site in Kushimoto was built by the private sector and designed for commercial operators.

Kris Christiaens's Avatar

Kris Christiaens

This article was published by FutureSpaceFlight founder and chief editor Kris Christiaens. Kris Christiaens has been passionate and fascinated by spaceflight and space exploration all his life and has written hundreds of articles on space projects, the commercial space industry and space missions over the past 20 years for magazines, books and websites. In late 2021, he founded the website FutureSpaceFlight with the goal of promoting new space companies and commercial space projects and compiling news of these start-ups and companies on one website.