Japan's new Epsilon rocket launches on its debut mission from Uchinoura Space Center on Sept. 14, 2013 carrying the SPRINT-A (Hisaki) space telescope, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency satellite designed to study the planets of the solar system from Earth orbit.
On April 19, 2013, the Grasshopper rocket, designed and built by SpaceX, took to the skies over the company's rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. The rocket climbed to 250 meters (820 feet) where it hovered for a short time and then returned to Earth in a controlled descent.
The prototype rocket, that is being developed to launch payloads into orbit and then return to Earth in a controlled manner, tripled its previous altitude record (80 meters) during the April 19 one-minute test.
During the test, the private spaceflight company used a six-bladed "hexacopter" to fly around the rocket, capturing breathtaking video for further analysis by the team.
The rocket is around 10 stories tall and uses the company's Falcon 9 rocket first stage to accomplish its controlled flight.
Seen standing at the base of the rocket, "Johnny" (a cowboy mannequin) is "keeping things under control" according to the company's Twitter account.
The Grasshopper's single Merlin engine provides the thrust, while the four metallic legs support the rocket during launch and landing.
Japan's brand-new Epsilon rocket soared into space Saturday (Sept. 14) in a debut launch that carried a novel satellite into orbit to gaze at Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
The three-stage Epsilon rocket launched into orbit at 2 p.m. Japan Standard Time from the Uchinoura Space Center in southern Japan after a three-week delay due to a technical glitch. The rocket is designed to lower the cost of space launches by using automated systems to perform its own health checks instead of relying on human operators.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency initially attempted to launch the Epsilon rocket on Aug. 27, but a computer synchronization issue forced launch controllers to abort the test flight 19 seconds before liftoff. But Saturday, the high-tech rocket performed flawlessly, launching the new SPRINT-A satellite designed to study the magnetic fields and atmospheres of solar system planets.
"The satellite is currently in good health," JAXA officials said in a statement. The satellite separated from the Epsilon rocket about 61 minutes after liftoff.
The SPRINT-A satellite, short for the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere, will observe the atmospheres of Jupiter, Venus and Mars in ultraviolet light. The satellite weighs 771 pounds (350 kilograms) and is expected to spend one year on its primary mission.
Japan's Epsilon rocket is a 91-ton solid-fueled booster that stands 78 feet (24 meters) tall and can launch satellite weighing up to 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit.
The rocket's first stage uses a solid rocket motor based on the boosters used on Japan's liquid-fueled H-IIA launch vehicle, while the second and third stages are based on Japan's M-V rocket, which was retired in 2006. JAXA officials have said they estimated Epsilon's first flight to cost 3.8 billion yen ($38.5 million) – almost half the 7.5 billion yen ($76 million) cost for the M-V rocket.
"We would like to express our profound appreciation for the cooperation and support of all related personnel and organizations that helped contribute to the launch of the Epsilon-1," JAXA officials said.
The SPRINT-A satellite was renamed Hisaki after reaching orbit, and its name has a double meaning. First, Hisaki is the name of a cape at the tip of the Tsushiro Peninsula in the Uchinoura area and resembles the satellite's shape, JAXA officials said. The name is also a combination of "saki" (Japanese for "beyond") and "Hi" (the "sun"), because the spacecraft's targets are "beyond the sun," they added.
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