Japanese private rocket reaches space for first time

A Japanese aerospace start-up funded by a former internet maverick has successfully launched a small rocket into space, making it the first commercially developed Japanese rocket to reach orbit.

Interstellar Technology said the unmanned MOMO-3 rocket exceeded 60 miles in altitude before falling into the Pacific Ocean. It was launched from the company’s test site in the town of Taiki on Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido and flew about 10 minutes.

Interstellar Technologies CEO Takahiro Inagawa told a news conference from Hokkaido: “We proved that our rocket developed with a lot of commercially available parts is capable of reaching the space.”

The rocket, about 32ft long and 1.5ft in diameter, weighs about a tonne. It is capable of carrying payloads as heavy as 44lbs, but currently lacks the ability to send them into orbit.

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The company, founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Takafumi Horie, who was a former Livedoor president, aims to develop low-cost commercial rockets to carry satellites into space.

Mr Horie expressed high expectations for his new business.

“I’m hoping that many manufacturers and satellite makers will come here to join us,” he said.

The launch is part of a growing international trend in space business, where Japan has fallen behind global competition, led by US start-ups such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Saturday’s success came after two failures in 2017 and 2018.