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Japan plans to develop a new model of its M-5 solid-fuel rocket by 2007, officials of the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science said Thursday.

The new rocket will be an improved version of the current M-5 but will cost about half as much per launch, they said.

The M-5 rocket, developed by ISAS, is about 30 meters long and weighs some 140 tons. It is designed to put satellites of up to 1.8 tons into an orbit of 250 km.

The development work will be jointly conducted by ISAS and IHI Aerospace Co., a Tokyo-based subsidiary of Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co.

According to IHI Aerospace and ISAS, the new work will involve a “family” process to make possible more flexible composition of each rocket to meet the various demands of potential customers, such as planetary probes and the launching of small satellites.

Under the plan, the rocket fuselage and fuel nozzle parts will be simplified and more parts will be shared with those of other domestic rockets. As a result, the cost of launching the new rocket is expected to be 3.5 billion yen per launch, compared with 6.5 billion yen for the current M-5 model, the officials said.

The family process will make it possible to build more than one type of the new M-5, including standard three-stage rockets, and an “M-5 light” using only the second and third stages, depending on the purpose of the launch, they said.

The M-5 light would cost about 1.5 billion yen per launch, which would encourage more research groups to use such rockets for their research, the officials said.

The Kagoshima Space Center in Uchinoura, Kagoshima Prefecture, will be used for launching the new M-5 rockets, as it is for the existing model, they said.

A space development panel of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is expected to compile a report on a development plan for domestic rockets in June.

The launch of the fourth M-5 rocket failed in February 2000. Since the failure, ISAS has been working on another M-5 and plans to launch an experimental satellite into space with it this winter, the officials said. The MUSES-C satellite will be launched to take experimental samples from an asteroid and bring them back home, they said.

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