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Japanese rocket suffers catastrophic failure

Published Jan 16th, 2017 9:02PM EST
japan rocket launch
Image: NHK

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Japan’s ambitious plan to launch a pint-sized rocket equipped with a satellite has come to an abrupt end after the rocket suffered a communication failure and ended up plummeting back to Earth. The tiny rocket was launched from the Uchinoura Space Center at approximately 8:30 on Sunday morning with its microsatellite payload which it hoped to send into orbit. 

At first things seemed to be going rather well for the rather small rocket, which measured approximately 35 feet in length. The satellite it was carrying is also a miniature, at just over a foot in width. The rocket managed to cruise skyward and appeared to be working as intended, but Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency later revealed that the rocket and its satellite ended up in a water grave.

The agency explained that communications with the rocket malfunctioned and one of its boosters didn’t go off as planned. This caused the rocket to lose its momentum and fall back to Earth. Japan’s mini rocket ended up somewhere in the Philippine Sea, making the mission a total loss. The launch had originally been scheduled for January 11 but was postponed several days due to windy conditions.

As technology advances many space agencies from around the world are finding ways to make their satellites smaller and smaller, reducing costs and making it easier — in theory — to get them into orbit. In December, NASA released a video showing how its Pegasus XL rocket hauled several tiny satellites into space with the help of a highly modified jet airliner. That launch went much more smoothly than Japan’s ill-fated effort, but setbacks are just part of the game.