By | August 18, 2023

H-IIA no.  47 is on the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima

H-IIA launch vehicle number 47 is seen on the launch pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on August 28, 2023. Kyodo/via REUTERS Obtain license rights

  • Launch operator MHI cancels the launch due to high altitude winds
  • New launch date to be determined, but will not be earlier than August 31 – MHI
  • Lunar lander SLIM on board to defy Japan’s latest setback in space development

TOKYO, Aug 28 (Reuters) – Japan’s space agency canceled a planned launch on Monday of a rocket carrying what would be the country’s first spacecraft to land on the moon, with operator Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) (7011.T) citing strong winds.

Although the H-IIA rocket, Japan’s flagship rocket, has a 98% success rate, unfavorable wind conditions in the upper atmosphere forced a shutdown 27 minutes before the scheduled launch.

“High-altitude winds hit our limitations for a launch… which had been set up to ensure no debris impact falls outside pre-warned areas,” said MHI H-IIA launch unit chief Tatsuru Tokunaga.

Strong winds of nearly 108 km/h (67 mph) were observed at an altitude of 5,000-15,000 meters (16,400-49,200 feet), said Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) safety chief Michio Kawakami. Several typhoons around Japan could have affected wind conditions, he added.

The new launch date has not been set, but will not be earlier than Thursday due to necessary processes such as refueling, Tokunaga said. MHI and JAXA have said that a launch could happen as late as September 15.

The rocket was due to launch from JAXA’s Tanegashima space center in southern Japan on Monday morning; it had already been postponed twice since last week due to bad weather. It will mark the 47th H-IIA Japan has launched.

MISSION MOON SKIPPER

The rocket is carrying JAXA’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), which would be the first Japanese spacecraft to land on the moon. Tokyo-based startup ispace’s (9348.T) Hakuto-R Mission 1 lands crashed on the surface of the moon in April.

JAXA planned to launch SLIM’s landing from lunar orbit in January-February 2024 after Monday’s launch, with the aim of following Success of India’s Chandrayaan-3 lunar exploration mission this month.

Dubbed the “lunar sniper”, the SLIM mission searching to achieve a high-precision landing within 100 meters of its target on the lunar surface – a technological leap from conventional lunar landing accuracy of several kilometers, according to JAXA.

The rocket also carries an X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite, a joint project of JAXA, NASA and the European Space Agency.

Jointly developed by JAXA and MHI, the H-IIA has been Japan’s flagship spacecraft, with 45 successful launches in 46 attempts since 2001. But after JAXA’s new medium-lift H3 rocket failed at its debut in March, the agency delayed the launch of H-IIA No. 47 for several months to investigate the cause.

Despite his goal to send astronauts to the lunar surface in the late 2020s, Japan’s space mission has faced recent setbacks, with the launch wrong of the small Epsilon rocket in October 2022, followed by an engine explosion during a test last month.

(This story has been restored to restore deleted “a” in paragraph 1)

Reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Rocky Swift; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Kantaro writes about everything from Japan’s economic indicators to North Korea’s missiles to global regulation of AI companies. His previous stories have been published in the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Japan Times and Rest of World. Born in Tokyo, Kantaro graduated from DePauw University in the US and received the Overseas Press Club Foundation 2020 Scholar Award.

Mainly reports on pharmaceuticals, retail and breaking news in Japan. Previously worked at the US Department of State and Bloomberg News before that. New College of Florida and University of Hawaii alum. Former Poynter and JAIMS fellow.

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