Japan’s Hopes of Boosting Satellite Business Dampened By Failed Rocket Launch

Epsilon countdown aborted seconds from take-off for reasons unspecified

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The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)'s Epsilon Vehicle (Epsilon-1) is seen on the launch pad at the JAXA Uchinoura Space Center on August 20, 2013 in Kimotsuki, Kagoshima, Japan

Japan’s bid to boost its share of the booming commercial satellite business may have suffered a setback after its newest rocket experienced a second botched launch, Reuters reports.

Countdown of the Epsilon rocket — Japan’s first new rocket in more than a decade — was aborted 19 seconds before lift-off after the detection of what Japanese media called an “irregularity.”

The launch, scheduled for 12:45 a.m. EDT (0445 GMT), was being broadcast live on the Internet at the time of its termination.

Concerns over ground equipment caused the postponement of a launch planned for Aug. 22, space.com said.

On its Twitter feed earlier Tuesday, the Japanese space agency JAXA had promised Epsilon would herald “a new era of rockets.” It is being touted as a cheap method of satellite delivery because its operating costs are low and its controls are simplified, allowing the rocket to perform self-diagnostics and be controlled by laptop computers.

Several countries with satellite-launch capability are vying for slices of a growing market, but the technical obstacles to be surmounted are high.  On Aug. 19, the BBC reported that India had aborted an attempt to launch a communications satellite after smoke was seen coming from the launch rocket.

According to figures provided by the Satellite Industry Association, total global revenues from satellite launches grew by 10% between 2010 and 2011, from $4.3 billion to $4.8 billion. The U.S. is the market leader, with a 39% share of revenues in 2011.