Japan launches smallest rocket ever to carry satellite into orbit

Japan has set a new spaceflight record and unlike most of these feats, it’s defined by what wasn’t involved. The country’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully launched the smallest-ever rocket to carry a satellite into orbit, a modest SS-520 sounding rocket modified with a third stage inside its nose cone to get its payload into orbit.

The success came just over a year after JAXA’s original experiment with an SS-520 rocket ended in failure. Crews decided against igniting the second stage when the vehicle lost all telemetry data a mere 20 seconds after takeoff. There are no known plans to launch similar SS-520 missions in the near future, so this probably won’t become a regular occurrence for a while. It does take Japan one step closer to regular mini satellite launches.

As you might guess, the key to the record was the tiny cargo the rocket was carrying TRICOM-1R, a three-unit cubesat measuring just 13.6 inches long. You don’t need a giant vehicle when the mission hardware would fit in the backseat of your car. An investigation later determined that the likely cause was a poorly protected electrical connection, and the agency decided to try again this year with a fix in place.

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