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Satnews Daily
March 26th, 2014

JAXA + MHI—A New Flagship For Space Transportation (Launch Vehicle Manufacturing)

[SatNews]  The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)  selected Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) as the prime contractor who will be responsible for the launch and space transportation services for a newly developed flagship launch vehicle.

JAXA will begin developing the new national flagship launch vehicle in early Japan Fiscal Year 2014 in cooperation with a group of private companies led by MHI. The new flagship launch vehicle is aiming to enter the international satellite launch market on a full scale with high competitiveness while being responsible for Japan's space transportation after the 2020s by renovating our current flagship rockets, the H-IIA and H-IIB Launch Vehicles, and by improving usability through launch cost reduction by half and other enhancements.

  • The main liquid-engine core rockets will be the same specifications for all launch vehicles in the new series so that manufacturing and operation can be more efficiently performed
  • Up to six solid rocket boosters (depending on the needs) can be attached for a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) mission to be able to flexibly cope with diversified needs

The development will begin in early Japan Fiscal Year 2014 targeting a maiden launch in JFY 2020.

  • Launch vehicle development (structure, electronics/avionics, propulsion system, payload fairing)
  • Engine development (for the first and second stages)
  • Solid rocket booster development
  • Launch pad, launch site ground facility development

As use of space is now imperative in various areas, such as using satellite data for our daily lives, it is important to secure an independent space transportation capability without relying on other countries to launch a satellite. Accordingly, the Japanese government also stipulates an autonomous space launch capacity as a basic space policy. The current flagship launch vehicle, H-IIA, is based on the conventional design concept of its predecessor, H-II, thus the H-IIA launch system applied many of the facilities built for the H-II. In other words, they are aging at over 30 years old since the H-II days, and they became so old that their maintenance costs are increasing year on year.

In addition, no new launch vehicle development project has been conducted for about 15 years after the H-IIA development, hence skilled engineers who were involved in the actual development are graying. If we left this situation unattended, Japan will face difficulty to maintain our development and launch capability of launch vehicles in the future. Although our flagship launch vehicle technology is highly regarded, we need to lower the launch costs in order to procure commercial satellite launch demand from overseas in addition to our country's government satellites.. We have to renovate the overall launch system and develop a new flagship launch vehicle with high competitiveness for overcoming the above challenges and making it sustainable.

JAXA will apply a more sophisticated high-performance liquid hydrogen rocket engine that has been our specialty field to the first and second-stage engines while cutting its costs and improving its reliability. We will then attach solid rocket boosters that are based on our technology that has been fostered through the development of the Epsilon Launch Vehicle and so on. We can cope with a wide variety of launch needs by varying the number of solid rocket boosters to be attached. The basic structure of the new launch vehicle is similar to that of the H-IIA, but we will achieve two goals, low cost and high reliability, at the same time by introducing cutting-edge technologies in every area.

JAXA will be in charge of managing and integrating the overall development of the new flagship launch vehicle by capitalizing on our knowledge acquired through our past launch vehicle development experiences, and constructing the best seamless system of the launch vehicle, ground facility and key technologies indispensable to autonomy. On the other hand, the private company (the prime contractor) will be uniformly responsible from development and launch services of the new launch vehicle in order to make it an internationally competitive rocket. JAXA will begin its development in cooperation with a group of private companies led by the prime contractor.

JAXA's infosite is located at http://www.jaxa.jp/

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries infosite is located at http://www.mhi-global.com/index.html

Brief background

May June 4, 2013: Development of the new flagship launch vehicle was decided by the Japanese government (Notified by the Minister of National Space Policy to the other Cabinet Ministers concerned).
Jan. 15 (Fri.) thru 27 (Mon.), 2014: Mission Definition Review (MDR) was held at JAXA.
Feb. 6 (Fri.) thru 17 (Mon.), 2014: JAXA asked the private sector for the Request for Information (RFI) for the selection criteria of the prime contractor and the basic agreement (draft agreement.)
Feb. 21 (Fri.), 2014: JAXA held a management review to confirm the readiness for the selection of the prime contractor and consequent start of development.
Feb. 27 (Thu.), 2014: JAXA announced an invitation to the private sector on a proposal competition for the prime contractor for development and launch services of the new launch vehicles.