We get spoiled watching SpaceX launch its Falcon 9 rockets multiple times a month, the private space transportation company’s achievements reaching a new high earlier this month when it sent its first astronauts skyward aboard its Crew Dragon capsule.
But it wasn’t always that way. In its early days, SpaceX lost several of its rockets during launch, but over time managed to resolve the issues. And this collection of global rocket catastrophes in years gone by shows just how badly things can go wrong at the launch stage.
And so we shouldn’t be too surprised seeing a fledgling private rocket company in Japan having a few problems getting its own rocket into orbit. Of the five launches performed by Interstellar Technologies since 2017, only one of its MOMO rockets has managed to reach space. The most recent one, sent skyward on Sunday, didn’t.
While the rocket already has the accolade of becoming the first commercially developed Japanese booster to reach space — achieved in May 2019 — the company would dearly love to bring some consistency to its efforts.
Sunday’s launch, which took place in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, saw the fifth MOMO rocket perform a textbook lift-off (ie. it made it off the launchpad).
But 36 seconds into its flight as the MOMO reached an altitude of 7 miles (about 11 km), its engine nozzle broke and the rocket lost balance. A video (below) of the launch shows the rocket climbing smoothly before spinning out of control and crashing into the sea a short distance from land.
Inagawa Takahiro, the president of Interstellar Technologies, described Sunday’s effort as disappointing, adding that the team will look into the precise cause of the malfunction.
The company’s first rocket, the MOMO-1, failed 66 seconds after launch in 2017, while the MOMO-2 crashed in spectacular fashion just four-seconds after leaving the launchpad. Its third launch attempt managed to reach the border of space, otherwise known as the Karman line about 62 miles (100 km) up, while MOMO-4 reached 8 miles (13 km) into the sky before a malfunction brought the mission to an abrupt end.
The MOMO rocket weighs around a ton and stands at just under 10 meters, making it a good deal shorter than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which stands at 70 meters.
Interstellar Technologies’ next rocket is already being built, though no date has yet been set for its launch. We’ve reached out to the company to find out more.
The company’s ultimate aim is to build a business for launching small satellites into low-Earth orbit. SpaceX just days ago completed the first mission for its Smallsat Rideshare Program, while other companies such as Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit are also exploring the same potentially lucrative market.