Japan’s Epsilon 5 rocket launches nine small satellites

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SEOUL, South Korea — Japan’s solid-fuel Epsilon 5 rocket successfully put nine small satellites into orbit Nov. 9, including an orbital debris removal technology demonstrator, in a rideshare launch that has been postponed twice since early October.

Live footage showed the 26-meter rocket blasting off from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, at 7:55 p.m. Eastern or 9:55 a.m. local time.  It released the nine satellites “one by one as scheduled” at an altitude of about 600 kilometers, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a statement. This mission marks the fifth flight of the Epsilon rocket, which first flew in September 2013. The four previous Epsilon launches — which took place in September 2013, December 2016, January 2018 and January 2019 — were all successful, according to JAXA data.

Epsilon 5 released the primary payload, Rapid Innovative Payload Demonstration Satellite No. 2 (RAISE-2), about 52 minutes after launch and the remaining eight were released one hour later, according to JAXA. While eight of the nine satellites were manufactured by a variety of Japanese companies and universities, the remaining one, NanoDragon, was developed by the Vietnam National Space Center.

RAISE-2, built by Mitsubishi Electric Corp., will test six different space technologies, including a small sensor called MARIN designed to gauge the position, altitude and velocity of orbiting satellites, according to JAXA

The largest of the tagalongs is the Debris Removal Unprecedented Micro Satellite (DRUMS), a 62-kilogram spacecraft that will test techniques for capturing pieces of space debris to remove them from the space environment. DRUMS, built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, will deploy a small target subsatellite, which it will then move away from before returning to rendezvous using automated visual navigation systems.

Vietnam’s NanoDragon is a cubesat which weighs 3.8 kilograms. The satellite, developed by the Vietnam National Space Center (VNSC) under the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, is part of VNSC’s “made in Vietnam” small satellite development roadmap.

Meanwhile, Epsilon 5’s launch was initially scheduled for Oct. 1, but this was canceled about a minute before the scheduled liftoff time due to a glitch found in ground radar equipment. The launch was postponed again Oct. 7 because of unfavorable weather conditions.