National / Science & Health

Pre-dawn fire leads to cancellation of rocket launch from Tanegashima facility to International Space Station

Kyodo

A fire broke out near a rocket launch pad on Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture early Wednesday, prompting the cancellation of an unmanned rocket launch scheduled for the same day to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, the operator said.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. planned to launch the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s supply vessel Kounotori 8 using an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture at 6:33 a.m.

The Kounotori 8 was being launched to deliver about 5.3 tons of supplies to astronauts at the space station, including food and water as well as batteries and devices needed for experiments, according to the agency.

“Kounotori” is the Japanese word for white stork.

Mitsubishi Heavy said it decided to cancel the launch to check for any damage to the rocket. There is only one launch pad suitable for an H-IIB rocket at the space center, so if the fire caused serious damage the impact could be substantial.

Even if there is no damage, the next launch is unlikely to come before this weekend.

“We feel great responsibility,” said Atsutoshi Tamura, a Mitsubishi Heavy executive in charge of Wednesday’s launch.

The company said it confirmed that a fire was burning at around 3:05 a.m. at the foot of the launch pad, apparently near a vent designed to allow engine exhaust and flames to escape as the rocket takes off.

The space agency said it was the first time that one of its rocket launches had been delayed by fire, adding that the space station has sufficient food and other items for astronauts not to be unduly impacted by the delay.

The company said there were no abnormalities when the rocket was put on the launch pad Tuesday afternoon and that it has not found any fuel leak.