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Government officials pledged efforts Tuesday to rebuild Japan’s space program in the wake of Monday’s failure of the launch of an H-II rocket carrying a multipurpose satellite.

Science and Technology Agency chief Hirofumi Nakasone promised a full-scale probe into the cause of the failure, which cost the government 34 billion yen.

Nakasone, back in Tokyo after observing the ill-fated launch at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, also indicated the current system of pursuing space development under the National Space Development Agency of Japan should be fundamentally reviewed.

It was the second blunder involving a Japanese-made rocket, following the failure of another H-II in February 1998 carrying a communications and broadcasting test satellite into orbit, and could deal a fatal blow to Japan’s attempt to enter the global market for satellite launches.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Toshihiro Nikai said the ministry will do its best to ensure the successful launch in 2004 of MTSAT 2, which is to serve as an alternative to the MTSAT lost in Monday’s rocket crash.

The ministry considers a multipurpose satellite indispensable because it is equipped to handle air traffic control and weather forecasts. It will try to procure the new satellite as quickly as possible.

On Monday, the domestically developed No. 8 H-II rocket, carrying the government-owned multipurpose satellite, crashed soon after launch after its main engine failed.

The main engine at the rocket’s first stage suddenly stopped some four minutes after the 4:29 p.m. launch at the space center — more than one minute before it was scheduled to do so, NASDA said.

Ground control issued an order eight minutes after the launch to destroy the rocket, because it deviated from a scheduled flight route and could not be traced from the ground.

The rocket crashed 150 km northwest of the Ogasawara Islands, roughly 1,250 km southeast of the launch site, according to NASDA.

The cause of the engine failure was still under investigation. But data analyses as of early Tuesday showed the first-stage engine stopped without instructions from a control mechanism aboard the rocket, NASDA said.

According to the launch program, the first-stage engine was to stop 5 minutes and 46 seconds after the launch upon instruction from the control system, and eight seconds later the first stage was to be cut off from the second stage.

But the first-stage engine suddenly stopped about 4 minutes after the launch in a way that is not observed in a normal operation based on the control system. Data show that instructions for a scheduled stop from the control system was issued after that.

It was also learned that separation of the first and second stages took place 5 minutes and 22 seconds after the launch — 30 seconds before it was scheduled, NASDA said.

Monday’s launch was originally scheduled for August but was delayed three times due to trouble with the rocket and changes made to the satellite. NASDA had conducted a special advance inspection of the rocket for the day’s launch.

Despite the dismaying failure, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi stressed the need to continue with Japan’s space program.

“Japan should not entrust (the launch of) all of its satellites to the United States or other countries,” Obuchi told reporters Monday evening at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. He also said that if Japan suspended its program now, all efforts made thus far would come to nothing.

The 10 billion yen MTSAT multipurpose satellite, procured by the Transport Ministry, was intended to replace the current Himawari No. 5 weather satellite, which will reach its durability limit of five years next March.

The Meteorological Agency will attempt to prolong the operations of the Himawari, but weather forecasts for Japan and the Asia-Pacific region will likely be affected if the satellite fails.

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