KAIROS during its rapid unscheduled disassembly.

Japan's first private rocket debuts... for five seconds

Early on the morning of the 13th of March, a new rocket lifted off from Japan's newest spaceport before appearing to disintegrate a few seconds into flight. The rocket was aiming to deliver a satellite on behalf of the Japanese government into a sun-synchronous orbit but only reached under one-hundred meters in altitude.

During the post-launch press conference, Space One shared that all debris fell within the Spaceport Kii property with no damage to private property and minor damage to the launch facilities. Space One hasn't shared a timeline for the failure investigation, which was to be expected given how early after the failure the press conference was, but they remain confident in working towards their planned cadence of thirty flights per year.

Space One believes that the automated flight termination system destroyed the rocket but they are currently unsure what caused the system to trigger.

Onboard the rocket was believed to be a small prototype satellite from Japan's Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center. The satellite was likely below 100 kilograms in weight with its reconnaissance instruments having a resolution of under 1 meter. Not much more is known about the satellite due to its military application. The payload is believed to be heavily damaged and is unlikely to be recovered and refurbished for another launch.

Observers of the launch were able to spot what is believed to have been the satellite onboard after the rocket disintegrated.

The satellite that was atop of KAIROS after being liberated from the rocket.
The satellite that was atop of KAIROS after being liberated from the rocket.

The launch was also the first from Japan's new Spaceport Kii located near Kushimoto, in the Wakayama Prefecture. Spaceport Kii started construction in 2019 and was completed in 2021. The location of the spaceport allows the rocket to reach inclinations as high as 33 degrees and as low as 97 degrees.

A render of Space One's facilities and Spaceport Kii. ©Space One
A render of Space One's facilities at Spaceport Kii. ©Space One

Space One has a launchpad and integration facilities at the spaceport, this includes a moving vertical integration building and a larger integration building. The vertical integration building is believed to be for stacking the rocket prior to launch, with the larger one likely being for spacecraft encapsulation and attachment to the fourth-stage.

What is KAIROS?

KAIROS or, Kii-based Advanced & Instant ROcket System, is a four-stage launch vehicle developed by Space One in Japan. The specifics of each stage is not known publically, but the first three stages are solid fuelled with the fourth being a liquid rocket stage.

A render of the KAIROS rocket. ©Space One
A render of the KAIROS rocket. ©Space One

The rocket is capable of delivering 250 kilograms to a 500-kilometer low Earth orbit or 150 kilograms to a 500-kilometer low Earth orbit.

KAIROS' stages are 1.35 meters in diameter with its fairing being 1.5 meters in diameter. The rocket is 18 meters tall on the launch pad and weighs approximately 23,000 kilograms when fully fuelled.

Who is Space One?

Space One is a commercial launch provider headquartered in Japan and founded in July of 2018. The company is aiming to offer the shortest time from contract signing to launch as well as frequent launches. They are also believed to be aiming for twenty launches per year by the 'mid-2020s'.

Space One's president is Masakazu Toyoda and currently has the following shareholders: CANON ELECTRONICS Co LTD, IHI AEROSPACE Co Ltd, Shimizu Corporation, Development Bank of Japan Inc, The Kiyo Bank Ltd, K4 Ventures GK, Taiyo Group Co Ltd, MUFG Bank Ltd, Azuma House Co Ltd, Okuwa Co Ltd, and Okuwa Co Ltd.

The logo of Space One.
The logo of Space One.