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Japan launches Epsilon rocket carrying seven satellites, including one supposed to generate fake meteor shower

Kyodo

Japan successfully launched on Friday morning a low-cost Epsilon rocket carrying seven satellites built by 10 organizations, including a space venture aiming to create artificial shooting stars.

The launch by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) of the Epsilon-4 rocket, from Uchinoura Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, is the first since new rules were set in November to promote private-sector space development activities.

Among the satellites sent into space was one developed by Tokyo-based ALE Co. that plans to replicate a meteor shower by releasing metal pieces into the atmosphere. It was accompanied by a land and weather observer named MicroDragon, developed by engineers from the Vietnam National Satellite Center with the support of professors from Japanese universities.

ALE founder and CEO Lena Okajima, 39, and some 20 employees of the space venture took part in a tour to observe the launch along with more than 700 other people at a site about 3 kilometers from the space center.

“It was a beautiful launch. It is thrilling and at the same time sobering as the key stage will start from now,” Okajima said.

Her company aims to create the world’s first artificial meteor shower next year, above the coastal region of Hiroshima Prefecture along the Seto Inland Sea.

With demand growing globally for small satellites, JAXA hopes to attract orders with its Epsilon rockets that are specially designed to carry such satellites at a lower cost.

The Epsilon is a solid fuel rocket equipped with artificial intelligence technology that cuts labor and launch costs, and which can be controlled from the ground by just two personal computers.

JAXA aims to eventually cut the Epsilon’s ¥5.5 billion ($50 million) launch cost — about half that of its more commonly used H-IIA rocket — to ¥3 billion.