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Japan may launch rocket with recycled booster in 2030

This photo shows the launch of an H2A rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, on Nov. 29, 2020. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan should develop and launch a rocket with a reusable booster by around 2030 with the aim of reducing the cost of liftoffs, a science ministry panel of experts said Wednesday.

    The cost of launching Japan's current H2A rocket is around 10 billion yen ($92 million). The first stage, or booster, of the rocket is disposed of after liftoff. The country's next-generation H3 rocket, which is expected to be launched by the end of March next year, will also be disposable.

    In the panel's draft report, the experts agreed to reduce the liftoff costs of a recycled rocket to about half those of the H3 rocket.

    The first H3 rocket is to be launched during fiscal 2021 ending March with the aim of halving launch costs.

    The Falcon 9 rocket developed by U.S. company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, reused parts from previous missions to help carry astronauts including Japan's Akihiko Hoshide to the International Space Station last month.

    As the booster of a Falcon 9 rocket can be used about 10 times, the cost of a liftoff for this type of reusable rocket is about 6 billion yen.

    "If our country cannot produce competitive rockets, we will be forced out of the market," the draft report said.

    The panel is expected to hold another meeting in early June to compile an interim report.

    Japan's space agency has been conducting research on how to launch a small experimental rocket up to a height of about 100 meters and then land it vertically, as part of efforts to reuse rockets.

    The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency also plans to conduct a test of a large reusable rocket with France and Germany possibly in 2022.

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