Saturday, July 23, 2016

Japan’s H-3 Rocket to Be More Powerful and Cost-Effective than Its Predecessor

Artist’s rendering of the H-3 rocket. Image Credit: JAXA

Japan is working on its newest launch vehicle, known as H-3, that will be more powerful and cost-efficient than the H-2A (H-IIA) booster currently in service. On Wednesday, July 20, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) announced that it has completed the basic design of the rocket scheduled to be ready for its maiden flight in 2020.

JAXA hopes that due to the fact that H-3 will be equipped with simpler systems and use commercially available components, it will allow more frequent launches and will reduce the cost of putting payload into orbit. The agency expects that the time needed for the assembly and payload encapsulation in the launch vehicle will be much shortened.

“Reducing the number of hours to assemble the rocket and introducing automated inspection systems will allow an H-3 to be launched just a year after an order is placed,” said Masashi Okada, JAXA’s H-3 project team manager.

JAXA revealed that it decided to shorten the launch preparation process after receiving voices from its customers to swiftly launch their payloads and to increase the number of launch opportunities per year. H-3 will address these requests as its preparation period at the launch site, when compared to H-2A, will be reduced by half and the agency will be able to lift off six boosters of this type a year.

By using components available in other domestic industries and by creating a flow line manufacturing system usually employed in general industrial productions, JAXA aims to halve the current cost per orbital launch to around $47 million.

H-3 is also planned to be capable of lifting heavier payloads than H-2A. The launcher’s capability will increase from 4.9 to 6.5 tons, mainly to meet the demands of geostationary satellites.

“Our aim is to have a launch vehicle that launches a payload ‘quicker’ and ‘easier’ with ‘high reliability’ while securing flexibility to answer the voices of customers. We have set a target for launch capability and price while focusing on the flexibility of launch services to cope with worldwide payload launch needs,” JAXA stated on its website.

Manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the two-stage H-3 rocket is 207 feet (63 meters) tall and 17 feet (5.2 meters) in diameter. First stage is powered by two or three LE-9 engines and it could also be fitted with two or four solid rocket boosters depending on payload’s mass. Second stage has one engine which is an improved LE-5B. Both stages use liquid hydrogen (LH2) fuel and the liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidizer.

The development of H-3 was authorized by Japan's government in May 2013. One year later, the System Requirements Review (SRR) was completed. Critical Design Review (CDR) of the rocket is scheduled for mid-2017.

First H-3 launch in 2020 from the Tanegashima Space Center, will see the rocket flying without boosters. The version with additional motors will be inaugurated in 2021.

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