TOKYO -- The number of rockets Japan will launch for its key space projects will total a record figure of eight in fiscal 2017.
The increase in the number of launches by the government's Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries comes as the country becomes capable of independently launching rockets of all sizes. It also coincides with a project to launch satellites to form a Japanese global positioning system, which gets underway in earnest this year.
The Japanese government plans to further shorten the intervals between launches in response to growing business demand for satellites for use in GPS services and aerial imaging.
The previous high for missions carrying satellites or unmanned spacecraft was six in fiscal 2016, while five were launched in fiscal 2014. The average number was about three for the 10 years to the end of calendar 2015. If things go as planned, Japan will renew the record for the second straight year in fiscal 2017.
JAXA plans to launch the 34th of its mainstay H-IIA rocket series from the Tanegashima Space Center in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima on June 1. It will transport the second quasi-zenith satellite Michibiki, use of which will gather pace in fiscal 2017 as part of Japan's GPS project.
The government plans to launch two more quasi-zenith satellites by the end of fiscal 2017, as well as the Optical 6 information gathering satellite, which will, in effect, serve as a spy satellite. Including another mission for a climate-change observing satellite, a total of five launches are planned, all from aboard the H-IIA.
In addition, the seventh large-scale H-IIB rocket will carry Kounotori, an unmanned transport vehicle, to the International Space Station, and the third of the smaller Epsilon rockets will take Asnaro-2, an Earth-observing satellite, into orbit. The government is also considering launching the ultra-small SS-520, touted as the smallest vehicle capable of launching a satellite.
Officials believe Japan will need at least six launches a year to provide viable support for the country's space business' growth. But the figure remains far behind the 30 launched by Russia and about 20 by the U.S. China also recently launched over 10 rockets in a single year.