Japan Successfully Launches CubeSat With New SS-520 Booster

SS-520 booster (Credit: JAXA)

Japan successfully launched the SS-520 small satellite booster for the first time on Saturday.

JAXA reports the TRICOM-1R satellite successfully separated from the rocket 7 minutes 30 seconds after liftoff from the Uchinoura Space Center. The space agency says the 3U CubeSat, which carries an imaging camera and a store-and-forward communications system, is functioning normally.

It was the second launch attempt for the SS-520, which failed during its maiden flight in January 2017. The upgraded sounding rocket is equipped with a third stage that enables it to place a 3U CubeSat weighing 4 kg (8.8 lb.) into orbit.

  • JS Initials

    Canon made great cameras, now they they know how to assemble a satellite launcher.
    Is there enough demand to launch single microsats on a single launcher? i am skeptical.

  • This vehicle does almost EVERYTHING I ever dreamed of doing with a launch vehicle. Use existing solids, passive guidance, rail launched and it’s for individual cubesats. Heck, they even upgraded an existing sounding rocket to do it, brilliant! Why hasn’t the wallops crew done this with Black Brandy? They’ve had all the pieces for decades. (I’ve talked to some of the folks who’ve worked that program and they aren’t impressed with the leadership).

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Did you dream about setting a world record for most expensive launch per kilogram of payload? It’s something like $600,000 per pound. I don’t think even Shuttle was this bad.

  • Meh. The Japanese government is responsible for that horrendous cost structure. The fact that something is expensive when JAXA, MHI, etc. is involved is not a reflection of what it could/should cost.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    It’s the small amount of payload that put’s the limits on the could/should reflection of cost per kg. You either have cost savings from economies of scale or you have lots of good fun playing with rockets, but sensible economics isn’t about having fun. And no, I am not swayed by the “have to launch it now, into that particular orbit” argument. Yes the cost of launch is fairly low in comparison to “big” launchers, but it is still millions of money to lift a few kilograms of payload. If these small launchers were fully reusable, then perhaps there would be an argument to make, but a tenth of the cost for and thousandth of the payload is hardly a compelling equation.

  • Michael Halpern

    depends on cost

  • Michael Halpern

    I see air launch, partially reusables and efficient manufacturing as good tools to make small launch viable, the ss520 does not do any of that, its development was efficient, but thats it. Electron is a good design, with so many 3d printed parts, it can be maid cheaply, it can carry a few small sats, though not many, and it does have potential to become lower cost as it matures, as in many ways it is almost a scaled down F9, solids I dont see making good launch vehicles in general,

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Out of curiosity,why do you think air launch is a good idea?

  • Michael Halpern

    mainly because its a reusable stage 0, and not having to deal with as much wind sheer to scrub you, its workable,

  • redneck

    And not dealing with the bureaucracy of fixed launch sites. Less back pressure on first rocket stage engine gives higher allowable expansion ratio=Isp gain. More launch opportunities per day to particular orbits. Fly around or over the weather for less aborts.

  • Michael Halpern

    There are of course some significant disadvantages mainly due to the aircraft, such that it’s only really workable for small launch.

  • Dave Salt

    Airlaunch also reduces the effective delta-v to orbit by almost 1km/s due mainly to use of full expansion on the nozzle.

    Also, there’s nothing new about this…
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOTS-EV-1_Pilot

  • JS Initials

    Or the Aussies using their Mayfly solid -propellant sounding rockets.

  • Michael Halpern

    1km/s isn’t a huge delta v savings, not when you consider the fuel the aircraft itself requires, unless its a rockoon it won’t really be noticable, of course aircraft are more fuel efficient than rockets, being air breathing, but your advantage comes more from weather conditions and being able to have a larger window with a moving launch platform

  • Dave Salt

    Delta-v has a massive impact on the rocket’s design because of the exponential nature of the rocket equation. Any reduction can therefore be traded for either lower structural mass fraction – enabling a larger payload mass – or larger mass margins: the latter being very advantageous for reusable designs.

    Fuel is one of the lowest cost factors in the rocket’s launch cost though, as you point out, the aircraft’s fuel cost may be similar to the rocket’s.

  • Michael Halpern

    Yes but 1 km/s isn’t a lot of savings you can work with, particularly not when you consider the costs associated with the aircraft and the fact that you essentially require some of the largest aircraft in the world to help deliver a comparatively tiny payload to orbit, it is workable for small launch, but it doesn’t scale well, a big problem is that because you have to launch in the direction the aircraft is traveling, you likely need wings to force the booster into proper trajectory if you are using solid or hybrid boosters which is usually the case, as its hard to chill liquid propellants on a plane. There goes most of your savings in dV, there is a small range where you really get much benefit in delta v, other factors like weather and launch windows provide the bigger advantage

  • Dave Salt

    Real-world experience shows the benefits of air-launch are insufficient for expendables (e.g. Pegasus has never been a commercial success and I have grave doubts that LauncherOne will fare much better). However, it makes far more sense for fully reusable launch systems, especially were high flight rates are required (e.g. daily). Moreover, using existing aircraft need not be that limiting if the launcher forms the first leg of a space transportation infrastructure that can support basic on-orbit assembly, as discussed here…
    http://www.space-access.org/updates/RIspace_Paper_28(DSalt).pdf

  • Paul451

    not when you consider the fuel the aircraft itself requires

    Fuel used by jet engines is trivial compared to rockets. The carrier aircraft could fly for hours on the fuel used in the first few seconds by a liquid first stage.

    I don’t disagree that air-launch is limited and more expensive than it’s usually worth, but the cost is the aircraft itself, not the fuel. If it’s off-the-shelf, it’s payload is trivial. If it’s heavily modified, it’s payload is fairly trivial. If it has a modest payload, it’s a full custom monstrosity like Stratolaunch.

  • Michael Halpern

    And maintaining a large fully custom aircraft is not easy, and you need to lease hangar space so that adds more to the cost,