H2A成功 宇宙産業の地歩を築く一歩に

The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 20, 2012)
Japan's space industry shoud build on H-2A rocket success
H2A成功 宇宙産業の地歩を築く一歩に(5月19日付・読売社説)

The 21st H-2A rocket was successfully launched Friday with four satellites aboard. One of them, from South Korea, was the first to be launched under a contract from overseas.

All four satellites entered their planned orbits.

Everything went flawlessly and on schedule.

One of the four, the Arirang-3 satellite developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute was the focus of special attention. The South Korean satellite is equipped with a high-resolution camera capable of photographing small objects on the ground.

The successful liftoff marked Japan's entry into the commercial launch business for non-Japanese payloads, a goal people involved in the nation's space development programs have longed for. The success should be used to broaden opportunities for the nation's commercial satellite launch business.

The success this time was the 15th consecutive successful launch of the H-2A rocket since the explosion of the sixth H-2A in 2003. The H-2A program's 95.2 percent success rate makes it comparable to the best in the world.


More extensive record needed

The European Ariane rocket, a formidable rival for Japan in the space business competition, also has a success rate of about 95 percent--but it is based on a more extensive record of about 200 successful launches. The H-2A's corresponding figure of 21 launches leaves it far from truly catching up with the world's best.

Under the circumstances, Japan's commercial launch business faces a thorny and arduous path.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., the H-2A rocket manufacturer, began to seek contracts to launch commercial satellites around 2007. The company has had more than 100 inquiries from potential clients, but only one, the South Korean entity, actually signed on.

Further business efforts are needed for such purposes as cutting back on launch costs.

Explaining its choice of the H-2A rocket, South Korea cited the "inexpensiveness" of the latest launch.

An H-2A launch usually costs about 10 billion yen. But the launch fee was reportedly reduced considerably due to the fact that the South Korean satellite blasted off together with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Shizuku, an observation satellite designed to scrutinize Earth's water environment.

Further cuts in the production costs for the rocket are also essential.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has set the goal of halving costs through steps such as reviewing its procurement methods.


Launch new rocket R&D

The government must actively support the engagement of domestic industry in the rocket launching business.

By launching a variety of government satellites, including ones for Earth observation and telecommunications, one after another with H-2A rockets, the government could help enhance its appeal to potential clients.

We believe now is the time to start studies in earnest about the development of a next-generation Japanese rocket to succeed the H-2A.

Without a new research and development project, this country will eventually lose excellent rocket technicians. In fact, the technicians who were involved in the development of the H-2A project have already begun to retire.

In the United States, where rocket business start-ups have been set up at the initiative of private companies, launch costs are said to be about half those of the H-2A.

Although they have made few commercial launches so far, the U.S. space business start-ups are likely to become strong new rivals for Japan's satellite launch business.

Given the situation, it is imperative for this country to bolster cooperation among the government, industry and academia to maintain and strengthen domestic rocket technology.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 19, 2012)
(2012年5月19日01時32分 読売新聞)

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