WASHINGTON — Japan will debut its new Epsilon small rocket Aug. 22 with the launch of a planetary observation satellite from the Uchinoura Space Center on Japan’s southeastern coast, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced May 21.

JAXA also announced May 21 that it will launch an H-2B heavy-lift rocket carrying cargo to the international space station as early as Aug. 4 from Tanegashima Space Center.

The solid-fueled Epsilon rocket will carry the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere, or Sprint A, spacecraft to Earth orbit, JAXA said. From there the satellite will make observations of other planets in the solar system in ultraviolet spectral bands, according to JAXA’s website.

The Epsilon 1, designed to loft small scientific payloads to low Earth orbit, has one-third less capability than JAXA’s previous small rocket, the M-5, but is expected to cost about half as much. Its main stage is based on the SRB-A solid strap-on motor used on Japan’s workhorse H-2A rocket, while its second and third stages will be improved variants of motors used on the M-5, according to JAXA officials.

The upcoming launch, which has a window that runs through Sept. 30, will be the first space launch since 2006 from the Uchinoura Space Center, which today is used primarily for sounding rocket missions. Previously known as Kagoshima, the center was established in 1962 and was the site of Japan’s first space launch in 1970.

The H-2A and larger H-2B rockets launch from the newer Tanegashima Space Center, which is located south of Uchinoura on Tanegashima Island.  

The upcoming H-2B launch will carry JAXA’s fourth HTV cargo capsule to the space station. The launch window will remain open until Sept. 30, with the exact date and time to be determined by the space station partners, JAXA said.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...