In a demonstration experiment, Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) recently used the smallest rocket ever to launch a satellite into orbit. The agency modified an SS-520 sounding rocket with an extra third stage in the nose cone to give the micro-satellite, a 3-kg (6.6-lb) TRICOM-1R, its final boost into orbit. After liftoff, JAXA reported that the flight of SS-520 No. 5 proceeded normally and that around seven minutes 30 seconds into flight, TRICOM-1R separated and was inserted into its target orbit. The SS-520 No. 5 launch experiment was the second attempt following the failure of SS-520 No. 4, which occurred in January 2017. A video of Flight No. 5 can be viewed here.
The mission is part of a movement in the space industry towards using smaller vehicles to deliver small payloads. Rocket Lab successfully launched its first small rocket called Electron last month, delivering four satellites into orbit, including the disco ball-shaped Humanity’s Star. The Humanity Star is a 3-foot-wide carbon fiber sphere, made up of 65 panels that reflect the sun’s light, making the probe is so bright that people can see it with the naked eye. Rocket Lab has set up a website that gives real-time updates about the Humanity Star’s location.
“No matter where you are in the world, or what is happening in your life, everyone will be able to see the Humanity Star in the night sky,” Peter Beck, Rocket Lab’s CEO, said in a statement. “Our hope is that everyone looking at the Humanity Star will look past it to the vast expanse of the universe and think a little differently about their lives, actions, and what is important for humanity.”
Small rockets designed to carry small payloads like the Electron and Japan’s SS-520-5 are designed to help bring down the cost to get into orbit. The Electron rocket can launch for about $4.9 million. This cheaper means of getting into orbit could alleviate the financial burden smaller satellite companies face when trying to get their hardware off the ground.
Beck said in a statement: “Rocket Lab was founded on the principle of opening access to space to better understand our planet and improve life on it.”