Japan's Latest Rocket Lifts Off
Reviewed By Hitoshi URABE
"Japan's Latest Rocket Lifts Off"
(by AP) New York Times
This was the third launch, which turned out to be a flawless success, of domestically developed H2A rocket. The previous launches went fairly well, too, but the evaluation differs depending on the point of view because on the second launch the rocket flew as planned but failed to release a satellite.
H2A program is the successor to the H2 program that was plagued with technical failures and cost overruns. The whole program was reworked to come out as H2A, focusing on the cost aspect for a hope to obtain a chunk of commercial satellite launching business.
In the case of Japan's space development program, it was not necessarily the lack of basic technology that delayed the progress. It was more the responsibility of the management who should have organized the project more consistently including the political and financial aspects of it.
The managers of the program were not able to present the case successfully to relevant people and they were not generally responsive to criticism when the opponents argued that the technology, if needed, could be purchased cheaply and easily from abroad. The scientists and technicians tackling the project were not very conscious of their responsibilities to explain to the taxpayers the nature of their project. When they finally became aware that public money is not infinitely available, they began to claim that they could sell the product commercially. Unfortunately, the project was not designed at the outset to achieve any financial balance, so they were to have a hard time in modifying the program.
Nevertheless, the H2A rocket project is scheduled to be operated commercially by a group of private companies in 2005. In a way it is a legitimate plan to pursue, but considering the dwindling satellite launching market and the investments still needed to place the project on a commercial track, it does not seem to be an easy task.
In the meantime, there must be a decision made as to what extent the government should be involved in the space technology development, after the privatization of H2A. Are they intending to diminish the government support, or determined to stay and support the pursuit of technological frontiers?
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, who is planned to be the launch operator of the H2A when it is privatized, is reportedly developing a new rocket engine jointly with Boeing of U.S. at which the Japan's government, who wishes the technology to be developed domestically, shows displeasure.
There is precedence. A few decades ago, when YS-11, the first commercial airplane developed in Japan after WWII took off the ground, the whole project including the production and sales was handed over to a group of private companies. The consortium did sell YS-11, rather successfully in fact, but the development of a new domestic airplane was not sought, due to the curtailment of government support in this field and the companies involved had to look for joint ventures with foreign companies.
Technology promotion is a risky investment, but as it is deemed necessary to maintain a civilized society, many governments around the world pick up the tab. However, for a country like Japan, where national security could hardly ever be a reason for making such a risky investment, it is often difficult to justify public fund allocation of this sort.