IHI Aerospace to offer Epsilon rocket commercially

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WASHINGTON — Japanese company IHI Aerospace plans to market a version of the little-used Epsilon small launch vehicle to commercial customers, although at prices significantly higher than similar vehicles in development.

The Japanese space agency JAXA developed the solid-fuel Epsilon as a successor to the M-V small launch vehicle. The rocket made its debut in September 2013 and has launched four times, most recently in January 2019. All four launches were successful.

IHI Aerospace, the launch vehicle integrator, plans to start offering launch services using the Epsilon rocket in 2023, said Tonomi Hirai, manager for global business development at the company, during a side meeting of the 35th Annual Small Satellite Conference Aug. 9.

The company has six launches available from 2023 through 2026. Four other launches are already reserved for JAXA in that period, as well as two other Epsilon launches for JAXA scheduled through Japanese fiscal year 2022.

The commercial launches will use a new version of the rocket, called Epsilon S. That version will include several upgrades to the existing Epsilon, including replacing the rocket’s first stage, based on the strap-on booster used on the H-2 series of rockets, with one based on a new strap-on booster for the H3 vehicle.

Epsilon S will be to carry at least 600 kilograms to sun-synchronous orbits and 1,400 kilograms to low Earth orbits. Hirai said IHI will offer both dedicated and rideshare options for customers.

Pricing will depend on whether payloads are the primary payload or a secondary payload on launches. Hirai said that, for secondary payloads, IHI will offer a “market price” similar to what SpaceX charges for rideshare payloads. SpaceX currently charges $1 million for a smallsat weighing up to 200 kilograms flying to sun-synchronous orbit as a Falcon 9 rideshare mission.

A dedicated launch, he said, will be more expensive, with an estimated price of $25 million to $30 million to reserve an entire Epsilon S.

That would make Epsilon S significantly more expensive than other vehicles soon to enter service with similar capacities. Relativity Space is charging $12 million for its Terran 1 rocket, which can place 900 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit and is scheduled to make its debut as soon as late this year. Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket, which is scheduled to make its first launch in the next few months, can place 630 kilograms into sun-synchronous orbit for $15 million.

“We are considering ways to reduce launch costs,” Hirai said, but didn’t specify by how much.