Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has launched the second test model of its H3 rocket. The launch follows the setback of the inaugural flight last year.

The H3 rocket is designed to replace the H-IIA and enhance global launch orders by lowering costs and increasing payload capacity. The liftoff, which occurred at 9:22 a.m. Tokyo time on Saturday from the Tanegashima Space Centre, was broadcast live by JAXA.

The collaborative effort between JAXA and primary contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) saw scientists at the Tanegashima Space Centre celebrating with claps and hugs, signalling the mission’s success. The ongoing mission involves the release of micro-satellites, with a dummy satellite scheduled for release approximately two hours after liftoff.

H3’s initial launch was a failure in March last year. It ended 14 minutes after liftoff due to a second-stage engine failure. JAXA’s subsequent review identified potential electrical faults but could not pinpoint the direct cause, leading to delays in Japan’s satellite and planetary exploration plans.

The H3, measuring 63 meters (297 feet), aims to reduce per-launch costs to as low as 5 billion yen (US$33 million) through simpler structures and automotive-grade electronics. In comparison, the H-IIA costs about 10 billion yen per launch. The Japanese government plans to launch approximately 20 satellites and probes using H3 rockets by 2030, with future contributions to international projects like the Japan-India Lupex venture and the US-led Artemis moon exploration programme.

JAXA is scheduled to host a press conference later on Saturday to provide more details about the H3 rocket launch and its mission, emphasising the importance of this success for Japan’s space endeavours.

The recent pinpoint moon landing of Japan’s Slim spacecraft has also bolstered the country’s space credentials. Japan’s ambitious space agenda aligns with global trends as the demand for satellite launches increases, driven by affordable commercial vehicles such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which has transformed the industry through reusability, cost reduction, and increased efficiency.

Other players in the space industry are also making strides to meet the growing demand for satellite launches. The United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, conducted the inaugural flight of its Vulcan rocket last month. The European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch its lower-cost Ariane 6 rocket later this year, aiming to compete in the commercial satellite launch market.