Mitsubishi Taking Over H-2B Launch Operations

by

BRUSSELS — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has taken over responsibility for all launches of Japan’s H-2B rocket from the Japanese government in a move that could bring the vehicle into the global commercial launch market, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced Sept. 27.

The transfer of authority means MHI will begin billing JAXA for launch services starting with the rocket’s next launch. JAXA retains responsibility for flight safety and flight data acquisition, the agency said.

The privatization of H-2B launches, which had been expected, should result in lower production and operating costs, enabling Japan to become a more regular player in the global commercial launch market, JAXA said in a statement.

“Meanwhile, JAXA would like to engage in enhancing reliability as well as maintaining and operating Japan’s launch facilities for Japan’s flagship launch vehicle series in order to provide reliable launch means to broader demands,” the agency said in a statement.

MHI’s new responsibility followed the successful July 21 launch of the third H-2B vehicle, which placed Japan’s unmanned cargo freighter into low Earth orbit for a supply run to the international space station. MHI has been managing H-2A launches since 2007 and will now add the more powerful H-2B to its portfolio.

“MHI plans to aggressively explore the global market for diverse launch needs, including commercial satellites,” MHI said in a statement. The H-2B rocket can place up to 8,000 kilograms of payload into geostationary transfer orbit, the destination of most commercial telecommunications satellites.

“The company will continue to ask the government to use domestic launch vehicles for launching satellites on national missions, to clarify the country’s launch schedule for such satellites, and to delineate effective and detailed measures for sustaining Japan’s space-related industries,” MHI said.

The announcement came just two weeks after Japan’s principal commercial satellite operator Sky Perfect JSat, signed a multilaunch agreement with Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium for unspecified future satellites. Commercial satellite operators have said they like Japan’s rocket, but that it remains far too expensive relative to prevailing commercial launch rates.

MHI suggested it would be taking a page from China’s launch services provider, China Great Wall Industry Corp. of Beijing, by proposing to developing nations a package that includes a satellite or some other payload bundled with an H-2B launch.

China Great Wall has been forced into this policy by a U.S. embargo on shipping U.S. satellites and satellite components to China. To survive on the commercial market, China Great Wall has offered Chinese-built satellites or other satellites with no U.S. export-restricted components along with launches aboard Chinese Long March rockets.