Space One’s Kairos Rocket Suffers Mishap During First Flight Attempt

In a setback for Japan’s burgeoning space industry, the inaugural launch of Space One’s Kairos rocket ended abruptly in a fiery explosion just seconds after liftoff. The incident occurred as Space One aimed to become the first Japanese company to deploy a satellite into orbit.

The 18-meter solid-fuel rocket disintegrated merely five seconds after takeoff, casting a cloud of smoke and debris near the launch site atop the mountainous Kii peninsula in western Japan. Masakazu Toyoda, president of Space One, stated that the rocket terminated its flight due to challenges hindering mission success.

The cause of the explosion remains unclear, prompting Space One to initiate an investigation. The company emphasized the safety protocols of its highly automated launch system, which triggers self-destruction upon detecting anomalies that could jeopardize public safety.

Despite the setback, Toyoda refrained from labeling the incident as a failure, citing it as an opportunity for learning and improvement. Fortunately, there were no reported injuries, and authorities swiftly extinguished the ensuing fire.

The Kairos rocket carried an experimental government satellite designed to provide temporary replacements for intelligence satellites in case of malfunctions. Space One had initially scheduled the launch for Saturday but postponed it due to a maritime intrusion in the restricted area.

Space One, founded in 2018 by a consortium of Japanese companies, aims to offer “space courier services” domestically and internationally. Despite the delay in Kairos’ inaugural launch, the company has secured orders for subsequent missions, including from overseas clients.

The rocket, comprising three stages of solid-fuel engines and a liquid-fuel post-boost stage engine, targets payloads of up to 250 kg to low-Earth orbit. While launch costs remain undisclosed, Space One executive Kozo Abe asserted competitiveness against American rival Rocket Lab.

Japan’s space ambitions align with broader efforts to revitalize its aerospace industry in collaboration with the United States, countering technological competitors such as China and Russia. Recent successes include the launch of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) H3 rocket and historic achievements like the pinpoint moon landing.

Despite setbacks, including failed launches and technical mishaps, Japan remains committed to supporting space startups critical for national security and intelligence capabilities. Space One’s collaboration with the defense ministry to enhance rocket payloads underscores the nation’s determination to remain competitive in the global space race.