Skip to main content

Watch Japan’s latest private rocket launch end up in the water

We get spoiled watching SpaceX launch its Falcon 9 rockets multiple times a month, the private space transportation company’s achievements reaching a new high earlier this month when it sent its first astronauts skyward aboard its Crew Dragon capsule.

But it wasn’t always that way. In its early days, SpaceX lost several of its rockets during launch, but over time managed to resolve the issues. And this collection of global rocket catastrophes in years gone by shows just how badly things can go wrong at the launch stage.

And so we shouldn’t be too surprised seeing a fledgling private rocket company in Japan having a few problems getting its own rocket into orbit. Of the five launches performed by Interstellar Technologies since 2017, only one of its MOMO rockets has managed to reach space. The most recent one, sent skyward on Sunday, didn’t.

While the rocket already has the accolade of becoming the first commercially developed Japanese booster to reach space — achieved in May 2019 — the company would dearly love to bring some consistency to its efforts.

Sunday’s launch, which took place in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, saw the fifth MOMO rocket perform a textbook lift-off (ie. it made it off the launchpad).

But 36 seconds into its flight as the MOMO reached an altitude of 7 miles (about 11 km), its engine nozzle broke and the rocket lost balance. A video (below) of the launch shows the rocket climbing smoothly before spinning out of control and crashing into the sea a short distance from land.

観測ロケット「えんとつ町のプペル MOMO5号機」打上げ映像(速報)

Inagawa Takahiro, the president of Interstellar Technologies, described Sunday’s effort as disappointing, adding that the team will look into the precise cause of the malfunction.

The company’s first rocket, the MOMO-1, failed 66 seconds after launch in 2017, while the MOMO-2 crashed in spectacular fashion just four-seconds after leaving the launchpad. Its third launch attempt managed to reach the border of space, otherwise known as the Karman line about 62 miles (100 km) up, while MOMO-4 reached 8 miles (13 km) into the sky before a malfunction brought the mission to an abrupt end.

The MOMO rocket weighs around a ton and stands at just under 10 meters, making it a good deal shorter than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which stands at 70 meters.

Interstellar Technologies’ next rocket is already being built, though no date has yet been set for its launch. We’ve reached out to the company to find out more.

The company’s ultimate aim is to build a business for launching small satellites into low-Earth orbit. SpaceX just days ago completed the first mission for its Smallsat Rideshare Program, while other companies such as Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit are also exploring the same potentially lucrative market.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Watch SpaceX stack its Starship rocket in super-quick time
SpaceX's Starship spacecraft atop the Super Heavy booster.

SpaceX has shared a cool video showing its robotic “Mechazilla” launch tower stacking its Starship rocket ahead of the vehicle's third test flight.

SpaceX sped up the video (below) to show the stacking process in super-quick time. As the footage shows, the tower at SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, uses two arms to grab the rocket’s upper stage before carrying it to the top of the first-stage booster. The company also shared some spectacular images showing the rocket at the launch site on the coast of southern Texas.

Read more
How to watch NASA and SpaceX launch a private lunar lander mission this week
The Nova-C lunar lander is encapsulated within the fairing of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in preparation for launch, as part of NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative and Artemis campaign.

NASA will launch the latest mission to the moon late on Tuesday, February 13 (or early on Wednesday, February 14, depending on where you live). As part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, the company Intuitive Machines will launch its first lunar lander, with the aim of delivering science payloads to the surface of the moon.

NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV's Media Channel

Read more
Watch this cool close-up footage of SpaceX’s rocket booster landing
A Falcon 9 booster landing in January 2024.

SpaceX successfully launched a Cygnus cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday.

It was the first time for SpaceX to launch the Cygnus, whose 19 previous missions had involved Antares or Atlas rockets.

Read more