Tokyo: Japan on Friday canceled the launch of its first new medium-lift rocket in three decades after the second booster engines to lift the H3 vehicle failed to ignite after sticking on its side.

During the live-streamed event, after the launch countdown had reached zero the H3’s main engine dropped the 57 m (187 ft) rocket to the ground at Tanegashima Spaceport with its payload, the ALOS-3 land observation satellite, which is also equipped with infrared sensors designed to detect North Korean ballistic missiles.

“A lot of people have been following our progress and we are sorry,” the H3 project manager at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Masashi Okada, told a media briefing as he wiped away tears.

JAXA would aim for a second attempt before the end of March, Okada said. Japan fabricated the H3 to enhance its independent access to space and its chances of capturing a larger share of the global launch market from rivals including Elon Musk’s SpaceX. It is designed to put government and commercial satellites into orbit and supply to the International Space Station.

As a feature of Japan’s deepening cooperation with the United States in space, the latter variant will also carry cargo to the Gateway Lunar Space Station that NASA plans to build as part of its program to return people to the Moon. The US has guaranteed Japan a seat on one of its manned lunar missions. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T), the H3’s builder and launch manager, hopes the rocket will boost its space ambitions as SpaceX shakes up commercial launches with its reusable rockets, including the Falcon 9.

A September report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies put the cost of launching a Falcon 9 into low Earth orbit at $2,600 per kilogram. The H3’s predecessor, the H-II, has an equivalent price of $10,500.

“With the H3 we are aiming to halve the cost per launch,” a Mitsubishi Heavy spokesperson said before the planned launch.

A successful first mission would have put the Japanese rocket into space ahead of the planned launch this year of the European Space Agency’s new lower-cost Ariane vehicle. The failed launch deals with a setback for a burgeoning renaissance in space exploration and industry for Japan. In December, Japan’s iSpace successfully launched a craft that aims to be the world’s first commercial lunar lander, while billionaire Yusaku Maezawa revealed his crew for what would be the first civilian flyby of the moon.

But both projects depend on SpaceX rockets, and with Russian rockets no longer available, Japan is under pressure to develop its delivery system to achieve its space goals. Space exploration and defense were the main topics of talks between Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and US President Joe Biden in Washington last month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary said the government did not believe the failed launch would impact space policy and the H3 remained key for strengthening Japan’s autonomy and international cooperation in space activities.

By Archana

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