Japan's H3 rocket fails, in blow to space ambitions

STORY: Japan was forced to destroy its new H3 rocket during its debut flight on Tuesday (March 7), after its second-stage engine did not ignite as planned - marking a blow to Japan’s efforts to cut the cost of space access and compete against Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Live-streamed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the 187 foot launcher - the first new model in 30 years - lifted off from Tanegashima space port without a hitch.

But as it reached space 14 minutes into the flight, its second-stage engine failure forced JAXA to send a destruct signal.

The debris would have fallen into the ocean east of the Philippines, JAXA said, also announcing that this failed attempt followed an aborted launch last month.

Japan’s Science and Technology Minister said in a statement that the government had set up a task force to investigate the "very regrettable" failure.

Powered by a new simpler, lower-cost engine, H3's builder has estimated its cost per launch will be half that of its predecessor.

The H3 was carrying a satellite to monitor for disasters, and an experimental infrared sensor which could detect ballistic missiles launched from North Korea.

As well as lifting satellites into Earth's orbit, it will ferry supplies to the International Space Station.

As part of Japan's deepening cooperation with the U.S. in space, the rocket will also eventually supply cargo for a new NASA space station.

It is being built as part of NASA’s program to return people to the moon, including Japanese astronauts.

Despite the setback, Japan is still aiming to field an internationally competitive rocket, JAXA confirmed.