Japan suspends H-IIA rocket launch for moonshot because of strong winds

H-IIA No. 47 is on the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima

H-IIA launch vehicle number 47 is seen on the launching pad at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on August 28, 2023. Kyodo/via REUTERS Acquire Licensing Rights

  • Launch operator MHI suspends launch because of high-altitude winds
  • New launch date to be decided, but will be no sooner than Aug. 31 -MHI
  • Moon lander SLIM on board to defy Japan’s recent space development setbacks

TOKYO, Aug 28 (Reuters) – Japan’s space agency suspended a planned launch on Monday of a rocket carrying what would be the country’s first spacecraft to land on the moon, with operator Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) (7011.T) citing high winds.

Although the H-IIA rocket, the Japanese flagship launch vehicle, has a 98% launch success rate, unsuitable wind conditions in the upper atmosphere forced a suspension 27 minutes before the planned liftoff.

“High-altitude winds hit our constraint for a launch… which had been set to ensure no impact from debris falling outside of pre-warned areas,” said MHI H-IIA launch unit chief Tatsuru Tokunaga.

Strong winds of nearly 108 kph (67 mph) were observed at an altitude of 5,000-15,000 metres (16400-49200 ft), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) safety manager Michio Kawakami said. Multiple typhoons around Japan could have affected the wind conditions, he added.

The new launch date has not been decided, but will be no sooner than Thursday because of necessary processes such as re-fuelling, Tokunaga said. MHI and JAXA have said a launch could take place as late as Sept. 15.

The rocket was to be launched from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on Monday morning; it had already been postponed twice since last week because of bad weather. It will mark the 47th H-IIA Japan has launched.


The rocket is carrying JAXA’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), which would be the first Japanese spacecraft to land on the moon. Tokyo-based startup ispace’s (9348.T) Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander crashed on the lunar surface in April.

JAXA was planning to start SLIM’s landing from lunar orbit in January-February 2024 after Monday’s launch, aiming to follow the success of India’s Chandrayaan-3 moon exploration mission this month.

Dubbed the “moon sniper”, the SLIM mission seeks to achieve a high-precision landing within 100 metres of its target on the moon’s surface – a technological leap from conventional lunar-landing accuracy of several kilometres, according to JAXA.

The rocket is also carrying an X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite, a joint project of JAXA, NASA and the European Space Agency.

H-IIA, jointly developed by JAXA and MHI, has been Japan’s flagship space launch vehicle, with 45 successful launches in 46 tries since 2001. However, after JAXA’s new medium-lift H3 rocket failed on its debut in March, the agency postponed the launch of H-IIA No. 47 for several months to investigate the cause.

Despite its goal to send astronauts on the lunar surface in the late 2020s, Japan’s space missions have faced recent setbacks, with the launch failure of the Epsilon small rocket in October 2022, followed by an engine explosion during a test last month.

(This story has been refiled to restore deleted ‘a’ in paragraph 1)

Reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Rocky Swift; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Kantaro writes about everything from Japan’s economic indicators to North Korea’s missiles to global regulation on AI companies. His previous stories have been published in the Associated Press, Bloomberg, the Japan Times and Rest of World. A Tokyo native, Kantaro graduated from DePauw University in the United States and was the recipient of the Overseas Press Club Foundation 2020 Scholar Award.

Reports mainly on pharma, retail and breaking news in Japan. Previously worked at U.S. Department of State and Bloomberg News before that. New College of Florida and University of Hawaii alum. Former Poynter and JAIMS fellow.

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