Japanese space agency JAXA is scheduled to launch its first Epsilon-1 rocket on August 27. Three years in the development, Epsilon is notable for its concerted effort to cut costs in anyway possible. Designed to loft scientific payloads into low Earth orbit, the solid fueled Epsilon can carry 1.2 tons at less than half the cost of its predecessor, the M-5 rocket. According to a recent piece from Forbes:
This is wonderful stuff and reminds us that Japan remains a fount of world-class technology in a host of fields, not least space and aerospace. JAXA has been doing a creditable job keeping Japan in the forefront of this field, but has labored in the commercial launch business at a severe cost disadvantage to rivals including not only the perennials Russia, Europe, and the U.S., but also aggressive newcomers like China and India.
Epsilon-1, developed together with IHI Aerospace Co., Ltd., is the competitive answer. The rocket’s development–accomplished is a remarkably short period–has been focused on closing the cost gap with rivals, while honing features to meet specific market niches.
JAXA found costs savings by cutting time: development time and launch preparation time. For instance, Forbes reports that many tasks that had previously been performed manually during launch preparation have now been automated.
Follow the $47 million launch of Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) on August 27 out of Uchinour Space Center on Epsilon’s maiden flight.