Japan Successfully Launches Advanced Earth-observing Satellite on H3 Rocket

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on July 1, 2024 07:30
Japan Successfully Launches Advanced Earth Observing Satellite On H3 Rocket

Japan has successfully launched the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-4 (ALOS-4), also known as Daichi-4, using its new flagship H3 rocket.

This launch marks a significant achievement for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), demonstrating the viability of the H3 rocket as a reliable and competitive space transport vehicle.

Applause filled the launch control center at Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture as JAXA officials embraced following the success of the third H3 rocket launch.

Launch Details and Background

The H3 rocket lifted off from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center at 11:06 p.m. EDT on June 30 (12:06 p.m. JST on July 1). The ALOS-4 satellite was deployed into low Earth orbit approximately 16 minutes after liftoff, as planned. This successful mission follows a series of challenges for the H3 rocket, including an aborted launch and a failed mission last year.

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Makoto Arita, the JAXA H3 project team manager, expressed his satisfaction, stating, "It was truly a perfect launch, a perfect 100 out of 100." The H3 rocket, developed by JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is set to replace the aging H-2A rocket, which will be retired later this year after more than 20 years of service.

JAXA officials explained that the H3 rocket followed a preset trajectory, separating into two stages and releasing the satellite into orbit, with the rocket’s remains falling into the Indian Ocean. Hiroshi Yamakawa, head of JAXA, told a news conference, “Today, the payload, Daichi-4, was deployed into its operational environment — space — and has commenced its mission.”

This successful launch highlighted progress in maintaining Japan's autonomy in terms of access to space while simultaneously ensuring international competitiveness. Yamakawa emphasized, “I believe (today) has been a significant step forward toward achieving these objectives.” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also praised the efforts of all involved parties, expressing hopes for the advancement of Japan’s space program.

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Significance of the Alos-4 Satellite

The ALOS-4 satellite, developed at a cost of approximately ¥32 billion, is an advanced Earth observation satellite equipped with synthetic aperture radar. Unlike optical sensors, radar images can be acquired both day and night, and in all weather conditions.

Alos 4

This capability makes ALOS-4 particularly valuable for monitoring and responding to natural disasters, such as heavy rainfall, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. JAXA officials highlighted the satellite's capabilities, stating, "The ALOS-4 will leverage these merits for observing and monitoring disaster-hit areas, forests, and sea ice." The satellite can detect ground deformation, landslides, and other impacts of natural disasters.

Additionally, the ALOS-4 features an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to track ship movements, enhancing maritime safety and communication. AIS automatically sends and receives essential information about ships, including call signs, names, positions, courses, speeds, and destinations.

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This extensive observation range allows the satellite to monitor effectively even at nighttime and in poor weather. The ALOS-4’s advanced capabilities represent a significant technological advancement, quadrupling the observation range of its predecessor, the Daichi-2.

H3 Rocket's Journey and Future Plans

The H3 rocket's path to success has been fraught with challenges. Initially scheduled for its maiden flight in 2020, the rocket faced delays due to engine development issues. Its first launch attempt in March 2023 ended in failure when the upper-stage engine failed to ignite, resulting in the loss of the ALOS-3 satellite. However, the H3 rocket demonstrated resilience with a successful second flight in February 2024, carrying a mass simulator and deploying two small Earth-observation satellites.

This latest successful launch further cements its reliability and potential as Japan's new workhorse medium-lift rocket. JAXA plans to launch six H3 rockets annually, transitioning from the H-2A rocket. Yamakawa emphasized the importance of this successful launch, stating, "Regarding this launch, I personally feel a great sense of relief," but also noted that to ensure steady progress, they cannot be complacent. He added, "I expect that successfully launching a H3 rocket for the second consecutive time will enhance its credibility both domestically and internationally, but JAXA will continue to carefully analyze the results of the latest launch."

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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida praised the successful launch on social media, writing of his “respect for the efforts of all involved parties and hopes for the advancement” of Japan’s space program. This successful launch is seen as a critical step toward achieving a stable and commercially competitive space transport capacity, essential not only for Japan’s space program but also for its national security needs.

Implications for Japan's Space Program

The successful deployment of ALOS-4 and the reliable performance of the H3 rocket mark a significant milestone for Japan's space ambitions. This progress ensures Japan’s autonomy in space access and strengthens its international competitiveness.

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The ability to consistently launch advanced satellites will bolster Japan’s capabilities in Earth observation, disaster management, and national security. The Daichi-4 satellite can rapidly evaluate the extent of damage in the aftermath of disasters and monitor various environmental changes.

As JAXA continues to refine the H3 rocket and expand its launch capabilities, the agency is poised to play a critical role in the global space industry. The success of the H3 rocket underscores the importance of innovation and resilience in overcoming technical challenges and achieving long-term goals in space exploration and utilization. The advancements in the H3 rocket and the deployment of the ALOS-4 satellite represent a significant leap forward for Japan, highlighting its growing presence and capabilities in the space sector.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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