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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 15:28 GMT


Japan's rocket hopes explode

By BBC News Online Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse

Japanese space officials deliberately exploded a 24 billion yen ($229 m) rocket on and its cargo after it veered off course on Monday, just moments after lift-off.

[ image: The H-2 rocket soars skywards shortly before being exploded]
The H-2 rocket soars skywards shortly before being exploded
"We exploded the rocket because it swayed off orbit," said an official at the National Space Development Agency's Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan. "We are investigating the cause."

The H-2 rocket carries the hopes of Japan's fledgling space Industry. It cost 14 bn yen and the satellite, built for weather observation and air traffic control duties, cost another 10 bn yen.

The latest flight of the H-2 rocket had been repeatedly delayed by problems with fuel sensors and other difficulties.

It is another devastating blow to Japan's space effort and the H-2 rocket program that had been trying to recover its shattered reputation.

The last H-2 launch in February 1998 also ended in failure when a $36 million satellite was lost despite successfully separating from the rocket. It ended up in the wrong orbit.

The latest launch was the seventh launch since 1994. H-2 was supposed to be a fully Japanese built rival to the successful European Ariane-4.

NASDA is now developing the H2-A rocket, a high-performance but cheaper version of the H-2, for an expected launch in 2000. However experts have warned the date could be delayed.

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