The Epsilon rocket lifts off from the Uchinoura Space Centre in south-western Japan yesterday.
TOKYO: Japan’s new solid-fuel rocket successfully blasted off yesterday carrying a telescope for remote observation of planets in a launch coordinated from a laptop computer-based command centre.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Epsilon rocket from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Kagoshima, southwestern Japan, at 2 pm (0500 GMT).
The three-stage Epsilon — 24 metres long and weighing 91 tonnes — released the “SPRINT-A” telescope at an altitude of about 1,000 kilometres as scheduled, JAXA said.
SPRINT-A is the world’s first space telescope for remote observation of planets including Venus, Mars and Jupiter from its orbit around Earth, according to the agency.
Lift-off had originally been scheduled for August 27 but the first attempt was suspended with just seconds to go after a ground control computer falsely detected a positional abnormality.
Japan hopes the rocket, launched with just two laptop computers in a pared-down command centre, will become competitive in the global space business.
The Epsilon is about half the size of the nation’s liquid-fuelled H2-A rocket, and a successor to the solid fuel M-5 rocket that was retired in 2006 due to its high cost.
The small-sized rocket is equipped with artificial intelligence “for the first time in the world” that allows autonomous launch checks by the rocket itself, JAXA has said.
At the control centre only eight workers were engaged in the launch operation, compared with some 150 people usually needed when Japan launches its mainstream H2-A rocket.
The agency has halved the production and launch costs to 3.8 billion yen ($37m) compared with the previous M-5 rocket.
US companies had a monopoly on the commercial launch business 30 years ago, but their hold has steadily declined, with most of the business going to the France-based Arianespace, a public-private European partnership that in 2012 reported revenue of €1.3bn.