SS-520-4 sounding rocket failed to put into LEO orbit TRICOM-1 satellite during launch performed yesterday from Uchinoura Space Centre at 08:33 local time (23:33 UTC on Saturday). It was maiden flight of fourth configuration of SS-520 rocket – smallest launch vehicles in the world.

SS-520-4 solid fueled rocket is railed launched light vehicle created as alternative for H-IIA and other large rockets in delivering small satellites to LEO orbit. This prticular configuration was equipped in three stages and should be able to put 4 kg CubeSat satellite into a 180 km × 1500 km orbit with an inclination of 31° after reaching speed of 27000 km/h. Rocket in this version is long for 9.54 m with diameter at 52 cm and weight of 2600 kg.

This launch was already postponed due the poor weather conditions (strong wind) from 11 January 2017. JAXA, Japan’s space agency responsible for space launches and operator of SS-520-4, decided to launch SS-520-4 yesterday (UTC). TRICOM-1 satellite was already installed under the fairing of the rocket. This small (1U sized with mass at 3 kg) CubeSat satellite was built by the University of Tokyo and equipped with five cameras for Earth observation and transponders for transmitting data to Earth. It was planned to put satellite into 180 km × 1500 km orbit.

Yesterday pre-launch procedures were limited only to tests of the rocket and the payload. Due the fact, that SS-520-4 is solid fueled rocket it has not tanks which should be filled with propellant before start – launch preparations are usually take less time comparing to liquid fueled rockets. After receiving last weather forecasts, rocket was launched yesterday at 23:33 UTC from KS launch complex. After first 32 seconds rocket reached speed of 7200 km/h. Long for 6.1 m  first stage was cut off after providing 143 kN of thrust. During first phase of flight mission control center lost contact with rocket and telemetry data were not provided from T+20″. Tracking with utilization of radars showed, that at T+1’05” rocket was already on altitude of 78 km and released nose cone. At T+1’06” first stage was separated to let rhumb line thrusters installed on interstage to initiate spinning at T+1’17”. This phase of flight was necessary for correct stabilization of flight. At T+2’27” it was planned to jettison interstage. Unfortunately probably in that moment something gone wrong and planned for 7’30” flight was interrupted. First stage and second stage with third stage and payload fell into the Pacific Ocean. Peak altitude reached by second stage with TRICOM-1 attached to third stage was 200 km.

This was third launch of rocket from SS-520 family with another planned from Svalbard Rocket Range in Norway later this year.