Japan’s attempt to launch a tiny satellite into orbit using a mini-rocket has ended up in failure. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a statement that it was unable to receive data from the rocket due to the failure of communication systems. The experimental rocket called SS-520-4 was supposed to carry a small, 3kg satellite into space. JAXA had postponed the rocket’s launch on January 11 due to strong wind.

Japan Rocket Launch Failure JAXA
Image Source: Necovideo Visual Solutions (NVC) / YouTube video (screenshot)

JAXA aborted the mission due to communication failure

The SS-520-4 rocket lifted off at 8:33 AM local time Sunday from Uchinoura Space Center in southern Japan. However, 20 seconds into the flight, JAXA stopped receiving communication signals from the rocket. The space agency added that the first and second stage separated as expected, but the ignition of the second stage was stopped.

JAXA had to abort the mission due to communication failure. The rocket and the satellite it was carrying fell into the ocean in an expected spot. The satellite TRICOM-1 was developed by students at the University of Tokyo to take images of the Earth’s surface for a month before re-entering the atmosphere and burning up. Powered by solar cells and batteries, the satellite was equipped with communication equipment, and five small cameras.

Japan working to prove the viability of mini-rockets

The SS-520-4 was a modified version of Japan’s SS-520 sounding rocket that is used to deliver research payloads into space. JAXA had added an extra third stage to the SS-520-4 to help give satellites additional boost they need to enter the orbit. It was termed as the world’s smallest satellite launch vehicle at just 35 feet in length and 20 inches in diameter.

With the SS-520-4 launch, Japan was trying to make a case for tiny rockets and tiny satellites that are far more cost effective. Had it been successful, the SS-520-4 would have been the smallest rocket to put a satellite into the orbit. This certainly is a setback, but JAXA’s ambitions for a mini-rocket aren’t dead. The space agency needs to prove the viability of tiny rockets to win the private financial backing.

SS-520-4 cost just $4.3 million

Demand for more affordable ways to place satellites into orbit continues to grow, and smaller rockets can bring down the cost. Launching satellites using large rockets comes with a hefty price tag, which could increase the cost of communication services. Japan’s SS-520-4 rocket cost only $4.3 million from production to launch. The giant rockets cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Japan is not the only country trying to make miniature rockets to reduce costs. Companies in the US and Europe are also working on similar projects.