It appears that Japan’s private rocket industry still has ways to go before it catches up with the US’s SpaceX and Blue Origin. On Saturday, the Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies attempted to launch its MOMO-2 rocket, only for the vehicle to come crashing down in the seconds after liftoff and burst into flames. The incident took place on the northern island of Hokkaido, was the second launch attempt by Interstellar Technologies.
The 33-foot rocket was unmanned and carrying no payload. Video clearly shows the liftoff from the launchpad, followed by an immediate loss of thrust and the rocket’s explosion as it comes down. Interstellar hasn’t yet offered an explanation for the failure, but says it will continue with its goal of sending a satellite into low Earth orbit by 2020, adding that there was little damage to the launch facilities.
This was the second failed attempt by Interstellar, and a step back from the first. The first MOMO launch took place in July 2017 with a goal of reaching a 100km altitude. Engineers lost contact with the rocket about a minute after launch, resulting in engine shutdown and an estimate that it only reached a height of around 20km.
Like SpaceX, Interstellar has a goal of offering launches at much cheaper prices than the government, with the first MOMO priced at $440,000 whereas the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency can cost between $1.8 million and $2.7 million.
However, the startup has a questionable strategy of relying on readily available existing parts, as opposed to designing their own components. Also working against it is the fact that Interstellar’s founder is Takafumi Horie, the entrepreneur who created Japanese internet service provider Livedoor, and went on to earn a bad reputation after serving two years in prison for accounting fraud.