Fire at Launchpad Forces Japan to Call Off Rocket Launch to Space Station: Report

Japan called off a planned cargo ship launch to the International Space Station today (Sept. 10) after a fire erupted on the launch platform for the mission’s rocket, according to press reports. 

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was counting down toward the launch of an H-IIB rocket carrying the HTV-8 cargo ship when a fire broke out on the rocket’s mobile launch platform at the Tanegashima Space Center, according to Aviation Week writer Irene Klotz, who posted live updates from the launch site on Twitter.  

Ray Iechika Takaku, a spokesperson for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (which built the H-IIB rocket) told reporters on site that the company has never seen a launchpad fire during H-IIB launches, Klotz reported on Twitter. The fire began after fueling for the launch was complete, she added

Video: How Japan’s HTV Cargo Ships Work
Japan’s HTV Space Truck Explained (Infographic)

Japan has an unbroken record of success in launching its HTV vehicles, which generally fly to space every year or two using the H-IIB rocket. The last spacecraft was sent aloft in September 2018. To date, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has launched seven HTV missions since 2009. Today’s launch would have lifted off on the 10th anniversary of that first HTV flight.

The vehicle is supposed to carry six lithium-ion batteries and a prototype Sony laser-communications system to the ISS, and today would be the 10th anniversary of its first launch to the space station. NASA astronauts will install the batteries on the P6 solar array module in a spacewalk later this year to replace the aging ones already there, NASA officials have said.

Photos: Japan’s Robotic Space Cargo Ship Fleet

The Sony system will be deployed to test future communications between satellites or with ground stations, using ultra-fast laser communications, according to the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA. (Spacecraft today generally rely on radio, which has a more limited bandwidth to send information.)

“We have very high expectations for this technology,” ISS astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is now a vice-president at JAXA, JAXA said in a statement. “This technology … will likely be widely used not only in the telecommunications industry, but in the future as a means of communication in the field of exploration. Specifically, it can be used as a means of communication between the Earth and the International Space Station, the moon and Mars.”

This is a developing story. Check back soon for updates.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

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