Japan’s attempt to launch a privately developed rocket into orbit failed Saturday when Interstellar Technologies’ MOMO-2 space vehicle burst into flames at around 5:30 am, seconds after lift-off from a test site in Taiki in southern Hokkaido, the country’s second largest and northernmost island.
Launch footage shows the rocket falling back to the ground and exploding into a ball of fire, some 4 seconds into the launch.
About six hundred people had gathered to observe what was expected to be a spectacular launch; well, they can’t really complain, as the explosion of the 33-foot long, one-ton unmanned rocket was nothing short of a spectacle in itself. Fortunately, no loss of life or injuries was reported.
Sudden loss of thrust four seconds after launch – probably caused by a glitch in the main engine – was the reason attributed by the company to its second consecutive failure to launch a rocket high enough to call it a success.
Interstellar Technologies apologized to the people on its Facebook page for not being able to meet their expectations, saying that “it would be happy if you could watch the next challenge.”
You can read the full post here.
Less than a year ago, a similar launch attempt ended in failure when the company’s MOMO-1 rocket plunged into the ocean after its engine stopped at an altitude of 20 kilometers, which was at least higher than what MOMO-2 could manage on Saturday before disaster struck.
“Since the first rocket flew to some extent, the latest failure right after liftoff was unexpected,” a venture official said.
“I could not immediately understand what happened,” Interstellar Technologies President Takahiro Inagawa told a press conference.
Former president of Livedoor and Interstellar Technologies founder Takafumi Horie called it “an unprecedented failure,” pledging that his company would have another go at it.
“We have never seen a failure like this,” Horie told the media, reported by the Asahi Shimbun.
“We are thinking about what we can do to maintain some tie to the next step even as the future remains barely visible,” Horie added.
“We have to find ways to improve,” he said.
Inagawa is also not averse to having another shot at it; in fact, going by his statement, he’s open to multiple attempts, if necessary.
“We could not accomplish what we were expected to do. I feel sorry for that,” Inagawa said. “I feel that I would like to keep giving it a shot.”
The space venture’s contribution to the launch costs, which ran into tens of millions of yen, was ¥28.4 million (about $257,000), generated through crowd-funding.
Engadget’s Jon Fingas correctly notes in his piece that the company’s cost-cutting strategy of using existing components wherever possible, instead of designing everything from ground-up, backfired miserably.
He cited the example of MOMO-1 where the venture’s cost-cutting tricks ensured huge savings for the company, compared to the amount spent on similar government projects, but what’s the point in cutting corners when it doesn’t fetch you the success you want!
Here’s how Fingas said it, verbatim:
“This doesn’t speak well of the company’s strategy so far, which has relied on using existing parts where possible instead of designing everything from scratch. It promises to dramatically reduce the cost of flights (the original MOMO cost $440,000 versus the government’s $1.8 million or more), but that only holds true if it works,”
To give it a, rather, worse perspective, the amounts spent on the launch of MOMO-1 and 2 are, no doubt, way below what government undertakings cost, but, for now, they can only be considered a total loss.
By the time the company gets it right, it will have spent much more in the crashes than what it was trying to save, in the first place, not taking into account the time, energy, resources, and much more that were lost as a result.
Calling Horie a rogue entrepreneur, a reputation the Interstellar founder earned for doing time for a securities fraud, Fingas said: “it’s hard to shake comparisons between him and other space-minded luminaries like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, both of whom have made considerably more progress.”
Had MOMO-2 achieved its mission of launching its payload at the intended altitude of over 100 kilometers, it would have fallen back to earth, plunging safely into the sea, as was the plan.
However, it was not to be, and the payload, which included equipment developed by the Kochi University of Technology to gauge how sound waves propagate at high altitude, was destroyed along with the rocket.
76-year old Hachikiyo Takahashi, from the nearby town of Otofuke, said he was expecting the launch to be a success as the weather was ideal.
“I hope they do well next time,” said the septuagenarian.