Japan’s 1st private-sector rocket launch attempt explodes shortly after takeoff

A rocket touted as Japan’s first from the private sector to go into orbit exploded shortly after takeoff Wednesday, livestreamed video showed.

Online video showed the rocket called Kairos blasting off from Wakayama Prefecture, in central Japan, a mountainous area filled with trees, but exploding midair within seconds.

A huge plume of smoke engulfed the area, and flames shot up in some spots. The video then showed spurts of water shot toward that spot in an effort to put out the blaze.

Tokyo-based startup Space One, behind the rocket launch, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Live footage on public broadcaster NHK relayed a voice announcing to the crowd gathered to watch the takeoff from a safe distance. NHK showed debris scattering from the sky, and later charred pieces strewn about on the ground. The cause of the problems was still under investigation, according to NHK.

A rocket is seen lifting off from a lanscape of trees, a paved road and a square building.
Japan’s Space One’s Kairos rocket lifts off before it explodes, shortly after the launch. (Kyodo/Reuters)

The launch was already delayed several times, with the last postponement coming Saturday, after a ship was spotted in a risk area, according to Japanese media reports.

A large plume of smoke billows above a coastal landscape.
The Kairos rocket exploded shortly after its inaugural launch. ( Kyodo/Reuters)

If it had succeeded, Space One would have been the first private company to put a rocket into orbit.

Tokyo-based Space One was set up in 2018, with investments from major Japanese companies, including Canon Electronics, IHI, Shimizu and major banks.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or other damage.

People gather on a beach, one with a camera, and look in the direction of a plume of smoke in the distance.
Smoke rises from Space One’s launching pad as people look on in Kushimoto town, Wakayama prefecture. (Kyoda/Reuters)

Japan’s main space exploration effort is led by the government’s NASDA, which stands for The National Space Development Agency of Japan, the nation’s equivalent of NASA of the United States.

The agency is now called JAXA, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Wednesday’s failure is likely to work as a setback for such private sector efforts. The rocket was supposed to have sent a satellite into orbit around earth to gather various information.

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