The first "Epsilon" launch vehicle (Epsilon-1), the first of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) new generation of rockets, was launched from the Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture in September 2013. It is the first new rocket that Japan has developed in 12 years since its main "H2A" rocket. Epsilon incorporates the latest technology and has been designed to significantly cut costs by reforming the rocket's launch mechanism, which previously required the involvement of a large number of people. A "future" where mankind can "cheaply, quickly, and easily" advance the development of space is just around the corner.
September 2013: Epsilon-1 is launched into space (Photo couresty of JAXA/JOE NISHIZAWA)
Cutting the Cost of Launches
Epsilon-1 during launch rehearsals (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
Epsilon is a 3-stage rocket that uses solid fuel similar to gunpowder. At 24.2 meters in overall length and 2.6 meters in diameter, it is half the size of main rockets such as the H2A and Russia's Soyuz, which are used by individual countries. Despite this, it is capable of launching a 1.2 ton (est.) satellite into orbit around the earth at an altitude of several hundred kilometers.
Rockets that use solid fuel have a simple structure, unlike those that use liquid fuel for propulsion; and their characteristic feature lies in the fact that they reduce the preparation needed for a launch. Japan is known for developing state-of-the-art research on solid fuel rockets, but the "M-V (Mu Five)," which was the forerunner to Epsilon, faced issues with the high cost of its launch at more than 7 billion yen, and was discontinued in 2006. At that point, JAXA renewed its development efforts and came up with Epsilon.
The development of Epsilon began in 2009 and its main idea was to create a cheap, simple mechanism to launch the rocket. While it is also important to produce high-performance rockets, another important point for future space development is to make rocket launches inexpensive. It is the developers' dream to see a future society where rockets and space ships fly through space on a daily basis, just like passenger aircraft.
The site where the Epsilon launch vehicle was developed
(Photo courtesy of JAXA/JOE NISHIZAWA)
The upper stage engine of the Epsilon launch vehicle uses technology inherited from the M-V (Photo couresty of JAXA/JOE NISHIZAWA)
Rather than newly designing the most difficult part of the engine, Epsilon was created by combining the proven auxiliary rocket used in the launch of H2A, with the engine from the M-V's upper stage. Much of the fuselage structure and the rocket-release mechanism also used technology inherited from M-V and H2A, with additional improvements in weight-reduction etc.