Saturday, May 4, 2019

Interstellar Technologies Conducts Successful Launch of MOMO-F3, Becomes First Japanese Private Company to Send a Rocket into Space

MOMO-F3 rocket on the launch pad shortly before liftoff. Credit: IST

After a series of delays, Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies Inc. (IST) has finally launched its MOMO-F3 rocket from a launch pad in Taiki on the island of Hokkaido. The feat marks the first time a Japanese private company sends a rocket into space.

MOMO-F3 took to the skies at 5:45 a.m. JST on Saturday, May 4 (20:45 GMT, Friday, May 3). After liftoff, the rocket burned for nearly two minutes (118 seconds) and reached the maximum altitude of 113.4 kilometers. This achievement was confirmed by IST shortly after launch.

This means that the small sounding rocket has entered space, crossing the so-called Karman line at an altitude of approximately 100 kilometers - defined as the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

The experimental flight of MOMO-F3 was initially scheduled for April 30, but was scrubbed the due to an issue with the launch vehicle’s cryogenic valve.

“IST has overhauled the valve where the issue was found, and confirmed foreign objects were mixed there. The company believes that the contamination happened during the multiple tests and the full dress rehearsal in April,” IST told after the first scrubbed launch attempt.

After fixing the problem by replacing the valve with a new one, IST was forced to delay the MOMO-F3 launch several times due to bad weather, in particular strong winds that could endanger the flight.

MOMO-F3 is a 33-feet tall liquid-propellant sounding rocket, weighing some 1.15 metric tons. 

IST’s previous launches were unsuccessful. MOMO-F2 fell to the ground and exploded shortly after its launch on June 30, 2018, while communications with MOMO-F1 were lost about a minute after it had left the pad in July 2017.

While the success of MOMO-F3 is a milestone for IST and for the Japanese private space sector, the company has more ambitious plans. The startup's ultimate goal is to change the economics of space launch services, making it more economic to existing customers and accessible to entirely new markets.

At the moment, IST’s plan regarding future launches remains undisclosed. However, what is known is that the startup is also working on the development of a small orbital rocket, named ZERO, designed to carry about 100 kilograms of payload into space.


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