Japan’s smallest rocket launched on February 3, 2018, setting a new world record for its compact size as it delivered a 7-pound satellite to space.
Japan’s Smallest Rocket
In a world where the majority of spacecraft seem to be large and imposing, Japan’s smallest rocket – the SS-520 “sounding” rocket – is much more diminutive. This isn’t the first time Japan has tried to launch the rocket into space, with one failed attempt in the past. But this recent launch of Japan’s smallest rocket was a success and marked the tiniest rocket to place a satellite in orbit. The satellite payload, TRICOM-1R, weighs just 7 pounds, making the tiny rocket more than sufficient for the job.
Japan’s smallest rocket, the SS-520, was originally designed as a sounding rocket that was intended to take measurements and perform experiments during its flights. With a range of just over 500 miles, it’s not quite as powerful as its larger cousins.
While the recent failed mission last year was a setback for Japan’s smallest rocket, it’s a spacecraft with a storied history that dates back to its first flight on February 5, 1988. Following that maiden voyage, the SS-520 took an ionospheric research mission in December of 2000. The failed launch came 17 years later, but the recent launch on February 3, 2018, was a resounding success. DigitalTrends reports that the rocket took just seven and a half minutes to bring its payload into space, carrying a satellite featuring communications equipment as well as five small cameras with which it will take pictures of Earth.
Japan’s Prolific Schedule
This recent satellite launch is Japan’s second so far in 2018, previously sending an Epsilon rocket into space in order to take pictures last month. With another orbital launch planned for February, Japan’s schedule is jam-packed with space missions.
Although the SS-520 has been flying missions at various points since 1988, this recent launch of Japan’s smallest rocket won’t be its last. It’s expected that the rocket will next launch as part of a suborbital ionospheric mission.
Although SpaceX is the big name on everyone’s mind when it comes to space travel, Japan’s smallest rocket proves that you don’t need a gargantuan spacecraft in order to accomplish great feats. With a lifespan spanning 30 years and no sign of slowing down, the SS-520 will continue its purpose as a research craft after the successful launch of a satellite into space. In the future, we may start to see more and more smaller and more specialized crafts in order to defray the massive costs of space travel.