The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, destroyed its Epsilon-6 rocket mid-flight on Tuesday, resulting in the loss of eight commercial satellites that were included in the rideshare mission, local media reported.
JAXA sent out the self-destruct command to the solid-fuel rocket after space agency officials noted that the rocket was deviating from its proper trajectory and would not complete its mission. It’s the first time the small launch vehicle hasn’t reached orbit.
The Epsilon-6 rocket took off from the Mu Pad at the Uchinoura Space Center in southwestern Japan on Tuesday at 8:50 p.m. ET. About 10 minutes after the launch, JAXA determined that the rocket wasn’t flying safely and that a self-destruct command needed to be issued. “We ordered the rocket’s destruction because if we cannot send it into the orbit that we planned, we don’t know where it will go,” JAXA’s Yasuhiro Funo, who led the project, told reporters after the mission was aborted, according to Al-Jazeera.
The rocket, had it been allowed to continue, could have landed on a populated area. Instead, the terminate sequence forced the 85-foot-long (26-meters rocket to land somewhere in the sea.
JAXA is currently trying to determine what went wrong to cause the rocket to fail in reaching its target trajectory. The space agency’s previous five Epsilon rocket launches had all been successful following the launch vehicle’s debut in 2013.
Tuesday’s launch marked the first time Epsilon had commercial payloads on board, including two satellites, developed by a venture company in Fukuoka, that were designed to observe Earth’s surface using radar. Epsilon’s payload also included the RAISE-3 satellite, which was meant to operate in a Sun-synchronous orbit. This 13-month-long demonstration mission was going to test a system that uses water as fuel and a satellite de-orbiting drag sail, according to Everyday Astronaut, but those plans have been derailed.
The last time Japan suffered a rocket launch failure was in 2003 when the H2-A rocket was destroyed by mission controllers mid-flight. The rocket was carrying two spy satellites designed to snoop on North Korea, with one having optical sensors and the other using radar monitoring. Japan has been making major strides in its spacefaring agenda, with its Hayabusa2 spacecraft recently making history after collecting samples from asteroid Ryugu and bringing them back to Earth. JAXA is also planning on sending a spacecraft to Mars in 2024, aiming to return the first samples from Mars’ moon Phobos.