The first flight of Japan’s dedicated SS-520-4 cubesat launch vehicle has failed on its maiden flight. The launch took place at 2333 GMT on 24 January 2016 from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan. After a successful lift off from its rail launcher, the SS-520-4 launch vehicle suffered a second stage ignition failure, with the vehicle and the TRICOM 3U cubesat it was carrying, falling into the Pacific Ocean. There are indications that the spin-stabilised rocket had not been fully stabilised into the right attitude by its “rhumb line” thrusters (contained within its subsequently jettisoned interstage) which prevented ignition from taking take place.
The SS-520-4 is a direct conversion of the SS-520 sounding rocket into an orbital launch vehicle for nanosat (cubesat) class payloads. It is a two-stage SS-520 sounding rocket with extra solid rocket powered third stage attached. This maiden flight was a demonstration flight of a nanosat launch vehicle funded by a US$3.5 million grant from Japanese government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. It is not known if future flights will be funded.
Built by the University of Tokyo, and funded/owned by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the TRICOM 3U cubesat contained an experimental Store/Forward communications payload, plus four main cameras for Earth observation plus a sub camera to allow for imaging of the ground during the unstable stages.