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Japan space agency blows up eight satellites aboard Epsilon rocket

This is not why this mission was dubbed the 'Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration'

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is in damage control mode after a launch of its Epsilon rocket was terminated with a self-destruct command on Wednesday.

Epsilon is Japan’s small, cheap, launch platform. The solid-fuel powered craft can carry payloads totalling 590kg into orbit. It's designed for low-cost operations and an ability to carry several small satellites on each launch, thereby making space more accessible.

The Wednesday launch was Epsilon 6, and eight satellites came along for the ride – two of them commercial payloads.

Sadly, none made it into orbit. Japanese press report that the rocket veered off course while its first stage was firing. Mission scientists decided the craft could not enter orbit, so sent the message to self-destruct around ten minutes into the flight, when the rocket was over the Pacific Ocean.

Japan hasn't lost a rocket since 2003, and has chalked up more than 50 successful flights since. JAXA has also staged stunningly successful missions such as the Hayabusa-2 probe that visited an asteroid and brought some of it back to Earth.

Nonetheless, this failure is concerning, because it was just the fifth flight of the Epsilon launcher and was designated an “Innovative Satellite Technology Demonstration”.

Keiko Nagaoka, Japan's minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, apologized on behalf of JAXA for not meeting the expectations of the Japanese people. The Ministry he leads has launched a task force to determine the cause of the failure.

It's not all bad news for JAXA, which this week celebrated the arrival of Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata at the International Space Station – his fifth journey into space.

Japanese outlet Nikkei recently reported that one of his jobs at the ISS is to test toothpaste and cleaning wipes developed especially for use in space. The toothpaste does not foam, which its designers hope will mean that that astronauts won't have to rinse after brushing, saving some water.

The Register does not know if Wakata has tried the toothpaste yet, but we have spotted him shouting out to our UK HQ.


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