First private Japanese rocket, MOMO-3, successfully launched this week

Troubled spaceflight company Interstellar Technologies had a success this week, when it was finally able to launch its MOMO-3 rocket into space.

The Japanese company attempted its first launch in July 2017, but one minute after launch, communications with the rocket were lost and the emergency engine shutdown was triggered, causing the rocket to crash into the sea. A second launch attempt occurred in June 2018, but just four seconds after liftoff the rocket crashed back down to Earth, exploding violently.

Third time’s the charm, however, and this week the launch went off successfully, marking the first successful private launch by a Japanese company. The launch occurred on May 4, lifting off at 5:45 a.m. local time from the launch site in Hokkaido, Japan. The rocket reached the border of space, measured as 100 km (62 miles) from the Earth’s surface, within four minutes of launching. It continued to fly for 10 more seconds before falling back to Earth.

Controversial entrepreneur Takafumi Horie, who founded Interstellar Technologies, tweeted proudly: “Outer space is distant. But our rocket managed to get there, reaching an altitude of about 113 km.”

Horie was charged with securities fraud in 2006 and his role in the project has raised some eyebrows, but this launch shows that the company is making progress. He also tweeted that the company will be working on more stable launches in the future and aims to mass-product rockets in fast cycles.

The MOMO-3 rocket weighed in at 1150 kg, or about 2500 lbs, and was of a modest size, measuring 9.9 meters in length and 50 cm in diameter. The next plan for Interstellar Technologies is to develop a new rocket, called Zero, which will be able to launch a 100 kg (220 lb) satellite into an orbit at an altitude of 50 km (31 miles). The company hopes that this launch will be possible for the cost of 600 million yen, or 5.4 million U.S. dollars.

If the company is able to succeed in their new rocket plans, it will be able to take satellites into space for a far lower cost than current government launches. The launch this week shows there is potential in this plan, though there is still a long way to go before a sustainable business model can be achieved.

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