The third time was the charm for Interstellar Technologies.
On Saturday, the company’s suborbital Momo-3 rocket lifted off from its launch pad in Hokkaido and reached an altitude of 110 km (68.4 miles) before falling into the Pacific Ocean about 10 minutes later, The Japan Timesreports.
“It was a complete success. We’ll work to achieve stable launches and mass-produce (rockets) in quick cycles,” company founder Takafumi Horie told The Japan Times.
Measuring 10 meters in length and 50 centimeters in diameter and weighing 1 ton, it was first due to be launched Tuesday, but that launch was shelved due to a glitch in the fuel system.
It was the venture company’s third launch attempt after previous tries failed in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, the operator lost contact with Momo-1 shortly after launch. In 2018, Momo-2 only made it some 20 meters off the ground before crashing and bursting into flames due to a problem with a control system.
The MOMO sounding rocket is designed to carry a payload weighting up to 20 kg (44 lb) on suborbital flights at a cost of approximately ¥50 million (~$450,000).
Interstellar is also developing the ZERO booster to carry payloads weighing up to 100 kg (220.5 lb) to a 500 km (310.7 mile) sun synchronous orbit. The company hopes to conduct ZERO’s first flight test in 2020.
There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.
There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)