H3 rocket fails on maiden flight losing ALOS 3 into sea after second stage fails to ignite

by | Mar 7, 2023 | JAXA, Launches, Reliability Info, Satellites, Seradata News

Japan had a set back in its ambitions to compete commercially with its new H3 expendable rocket.  H3-22S rocket has failed on its first flight to second stage failure.  The launch took place at 0137 GMT on 7 March 2023 from Tanegashima, Japan.  The solid rocket boosters and the liquid propellent first stage appeared to work well as did the dog-leg trajectory (needed to avoid dropping stages on the Philippines).  However, with the first stage dropped off at over five minutes into the flight, there was an ignition failure on the second stage’s LOX/Liquid Hydrogen-powered LE-5B-3 engine.  When it became apparent that the launch was not going to achieve orbit, a destruction command was sent and resulting the debris, including that of the three metric ton JAXA-owned ALOS 3 – Advanced Land Observation Satellite 3 which was being carried on the flight, fell into the Pacific.

H3 (H3-22s) heads into the clouds on its maiden flight but its debris would soon be in the water. Courtesy: JAXA

A full investigation into the failure is to take place.

This launch was actually the second attempt to get the H3 to fly. The original attempt to launch on 17th February had its launch aborted with one second to go. The main stage’s rocket liquid oxygen (LOX)/liquid hydrogen-fed LE-9 engines had been ignited, but were immediately switched off after computer systems detected a fault (electrical noise/voltage transient in the LE-9 engine controller). The abort sequence could only take place because the rocket’s solid SRB-A3 rocket boosters had not been ignited.

Seradata is not aware of any insurance carried on the ALOS 3.

Comment by David Todd: This launch failure is surprising – not in itself, maiden flights have a circa 40 percent failure rate according to the Seradata launch and spacecraft database – but in which element failed. The first stage and pair of SRB-3 solid rocket booster stages were all new and it was thought that it would be these (especially the first stage which had significant engine development issues with its pair of new LOX/Liquid Hydrogen LE-9 expander bleed cycle engines) which would show a weakness.  In the end, the first stage and boosters worked well, and it was the derivative second stage which failed.  While this was also a new stage it was closely modelled on the H-2A upper stage and only had a slightly modified LE-5B-3 engine. Nevertheless, the Japanese should not lose hope. With the H3, Japan has finally achieved what it always wanted – a launch vehicle cost-effective enough to be truly competitive on the World launch market – at its launch price it can compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9, All it needs to do now is prove its reliability.

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