Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No. 677: Secret of the low launch cost of the Japanese small rocket Epsilon (January 8, 2013)

The first Epsilon, the successor of the M-V rocket, will be launched in August or September this year, according to Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It is in the final stage for the final experiment. The first Epsilon will carry the SPRINT-A, the world’s first space telescope for planet observation, that is designed for the remote observation of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter from satellites’ orbit.

Although an M-V rocket needs 42 days from assembling to cleanup after launch, an Epsilon needs only 7 days. The Epsilon can execute an abrupt order for satellite launch. While an M-V rocket needs 7.5 billion yen to transport a 1.8-ton satellite to space, an Epsilon needs 3 billion yen to transport a 1.2-ton satellite to space. The agency wishes to reduce the cost down to less than 3 billion yen ultimately. It reckons that the launch cost will be 25-35% lower in 2017.

The secret of the low launch cost is the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI). Because a rocket carries out examinations before launch by itself, a great deal of laborsaving has been realized. An M-V rocket needs more than 100 engineers for examinations before launch, but an Epsilon needs only 2 engineers because the examinations can be carried out only by 2 PCs. The “mobile control” using PCs is the first step for the development of a future reusable rocket. Japanese rocket engineers are actively increasing the efficiency of the launch system, while maintaining the world’s highest performance of the rocket. 

 Presentation of the Epsilon rocket

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