Japanese company plans second launch of privately funded sounding rocket this year


LOGAN, Utah — A Japanese company whose first sounding rocket launch last month failed to reach space will try again by the end of the year as it continues work on a small launch vehicle.

Interstellar Technologies performed the first launch of Momo, the first privately developed sounding rocket in Japan, on July 30 from a site on the coast of Hokkaido. However, the rocket reached only a peak altitude of 20 kilometers, far short of the planned apogee of 100 kilometers, the commonly-used demarcation for space known as the Karman Line.

In an interview during the 31st Annual Conference on Small Satellites here this month, Shuhei Horio, an engineer with Interstellar Technologies, said a loss of telemetry from the rocket led to the early termination of the launch. There were no other problems with the rocket at the time telemetry was lost, he said.

A second launch of Momo is planned for the end of this year, he said. That launch, like the first, will be a test flight without any payloads, but the company is actively marketing Momo as a vehicle for carrying payloads weighing up to 20 kilograms to the edge of space, providing four minutes of microgravity.

Horio said that, once in commercial service, Interstellar will sell launches of Momo for $300,000 each. The company expects to produce one rocket every one to two months.

Interstellar is also developing a small launch vehicle that it expects to begin launching by the end of 2019. That vehicle it designed to carry payloads weighing up to 100 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbits of altitudes of 500 to 700 kilometers, at an estimated price of $3 million each.

Much of the technology developed for Momo will be incorporated into the larger orbital vehicle. “Its basic technology, such as the manufacturing of the tanks, is based on this rocket,” Horio said. The orbital vehicle, he added, will use new rocket engines, for which the turbopumps and gas generator will be tested later this year.

Interstellar is not the first Japanese effort to build a vehicle designed for very small satellites. In January, the Japanese space agency JAXA launched a modified version of an SS-520 sounding rocket with an additional stage to allow it to place a single three-unit cubesat into orbit. However, the launch failed shortly after liftoff, again because of a telemetry problem.

Canon Electronics, which provided the control system for the modified SS-520 rocket, is also leading a Japanese industry consortium called New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning, formally announced Aug. 13. Other members of the consortium include IHI Aerospace, Shimizu and the Development Bank of Japan.

New Generation Small Rocket Development Planning is proposing to develop a small launch vehicle that, similar to Interstellar Technologies’ rocket, will be able to place 100 kilograms into orbit. The joint venture has yet to set a date for a first launch of that vehicle.