National / Science & Health

Japan's Tanegashima Space Center marks 50th anniversary of its first rocket launch


A ceremony was held Saturday to mark 50th anniversary of the first rocket launch from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The ceremony commemorating the September 1968 event was held in the Kagoshima town of Minamitane, which hosts the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s space center. It was attended by JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa, astronaut Kimiya Yui and other agency officials, as well as local residents.

“My dream is to travel from Tanegashima to space aboard a Japanese-made rocket,” Yui, 48, said in a speech. “I want to bring the people of Tanegashima who supported us, to let them have the chance to view the Earth from space.”

Construction work for the space center started in 1966, well before the U.S. occupation of Okinawa ended and it was returned to Japan in 1972. Tanegashima was considered the most suitable location for the space center at that time because it was relatively close to the equator and there was no land east of the island.

On Sept. 17, 1968, a 2.8-meter-long upper-air observation rocket lifted off from the facility, marking the first rocket launch from the center.

This was followed in September 1975 by the launch of the Kiku-1 satellite on an N-1 rocket, which was achieved with technological support from the United States.

Over the past 50 years, a total of 175 rockets have been launched from the space center, including the first H-2 rocket in 1994.

Japan is developing the next-generation H-3 rocket series, aiming for the first launch in fiscal 2020. Engine combustion tests and other preparations are underway on the island.