Japan’s Space Start-Up Faces Setback as Kairos Rocket Explodes on Inaugural Flight

Last Updated on March 13, 2024 1:02 pm


In a setback for Japan’s ambitious space endeavors, the Kairos rocket, a small, solid-fuelled vehicle developed by Space One, exploded moments after its inaugural launch. The 18-meter rocket, intended to make Japan the first country to launch a satellite into orbit via a private company, lifted off from the Kii Peninsula in western Japan at 11:01 am (0201 GMT). However, it exploded shortly after, leaving a trail of smoke, fire, rocket fragments, and firefighting efforts visible near the launch pad.

Space One characterized the flight as “interrupted” and is currently investigating the incident. As of now, there is no immediate indication of the cause of the explosion. Fortunately, there were no injuries reported near the launch pad, and the fire resulting from the explosion has been extinguished.

Kairos carried an experimental government satellite designed to temporarily replace intelligence satellites in orbit if they malfunction. The failed launch is a significant setback for Space One, which had high aspirations to offer “space courier services” to both domestic and international clients. The company aims to launch 20 rockets annually by the late 2020s.

Space One, established in 2018, is a consortium of Japanese companies, including Canon Electronics, IHI (the aerospace engineering unit of IHI construction firm Shimizu), and the Development Bank of Japan. While Japan is not a major player in the global space race, its rocket developers are striving to build more cost-effective vehicles to meet the increasing demand for satellite launches.

The failed launch impacted the stock market, with shares in Canon Electronics falling over 9% and shares in IHI down as much as 2%. Space One had delayed the Kairos inaugural launch window four times but already has orders for its second and third planned trips, including from an overseas customer.

Despite this setback, Japan continues to invest in its space capabilities, with state-funded Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launching its new flagship rocket, the H3, last month. The government is keen on supporting space startups critical for national security, partnering with the United States to revitalize its domestic aerospace industry and counter technological and military rivalry from China and Russia.

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