One More Rocket Mishap, This Time in Japan

Image (Credit): Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3, which was lost in the latest rocket failure. (JAXA)

The string of rocket failures continues. I had earlier mentioned the UK and Alaskan mishaps, while an Arianespace Vega C rocket launch from French Guiana when awry last December, and now Japan has suffered its own failure this week. Tuesday’s failed launch of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) H3 rocket is a setback for this new rocket. When the second stage of the rocket failed to ignite, the rocket self-destructed. The destruction included the rocket’s payload – the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3.

In additional to assisting with key Japanese defense and research satellite payloads, the H-3 rocket is part of Japan’s plan to assist with cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as well as future Artemis missions. Japan will need to figure out what happened here and get back into the game as soon as possible.

Following the recent failure of two Russian capsules at the ISS, this latest mishap demonstrates that both new and well-tested government-run space missions are subject to failure and delays. Redundancy within the commercial space industry will be critical as a backstop to these government-run programs.

Prepare for Thousands More LEO Satellites

Image (Credit): Launch vehicles for Amazon’s Project Kuiper. (Amazon)

Watch out SpaceX, Amazon is getting into the Internet satellite business as well. More importantly, beware astronomers and orbiting spacecraft, because the skies are going to be really crazy, and China has not even started with its massive program.

This week, Amazon announced plans to more forward with Project Kuiper, which will involve about 83 rocket launches involving Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance. The Project will place 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) over a five-year period.

This is how Amazon describes Project Kuiper:

Project Kuiper aims to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband to a wide range of customers, including individual households, schools, hospitals, businesses, government agencies, disaster relief operations, mobile operators, and other organizations working in places without reliable internet connectivity. Amazon is designing and developing the entire system in-house, combining a constellation of advanced LEO satellites with small, affordable customer terminals and a secure, resilient ground-based communications network. 

Of course, this is what SpaceX’s Starlink is already doing as it aims for 42,000 such satellites. In addition, Oneweb aims for about 600 such satellites (to be launched by SpaceX of all firms). And China is considering a similar system of 10,000 LEO satellites. This is just the list to date, which is quite a cluster of problems already.

So let me get this straight. We can get Dish TV cable services to every spot in the US using only 9 satellites, but we will need thousands and thousands of competing satellites crowding LEO and jeopardizing our space stations, weather and intelligence satellites, and astronomy efforts all for Internet services?

Why does it appear we are going backwards. I understand that the Dish satellites are about 22,000 miles away in geosynchronous orbits, but why can’t that be the model going forward rather than the billions of satellites that Mr. Musk thinks is possible? It strikes me as crazy to go down this path. All we need is one bad collision, and the cascading impact of that collision, to doom all of LEO.

We really need to think this through.