Japan has launched its flagship H3 rocket in a closely watched 2nd test after failed debut last year

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TOKYO (AP) — A new Japanese flagship H3 rocket lifted off from a space station in southwestern Japan on Saturday, reaching a planned trajectory and successfully releasing two payloads in a key second test flight a year after its failed debut launch.

The H3 rocket blasted off from a launch pad at the Tanegashima Space Center two days after its originally scheduled liftoff which was delayed due to bad weather.

The rocket’s initial flight has been smooth as planned and it successfully released two small payloads, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said. JAXA will have a news conference later in the day to provide further details.

The launch is closely watched as a test for Japan’s space development after H3 failed in its debut flight last March. JAXA and its main contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have been developing H3 as a successor to its current mainstay, H-2A, which is set to retire after two more flights.

In its debut flight last March, the rocket had to be destroyed along with its payload, the advanced land observation satellite, or ALOS-3. This time, the rocket will carry a mockup of the ALOS satellite, called VEP-4.

JAXA says the primary goal of the second test flight is to put the rocket into the intended trajectory. The agency also planned to place two observation microsatellites into orbit.

Saturday’s success is a major boost for Japan’s space program as the country struggles to stay competitive in the global space race.

H3 is designed to carry larger payloads than H-2A at much lower costs to be globally competitive.

Expectations were high following a recent streak of successes. JAXA last month made a historic precision moon landing with a spacecraft that had been launched from the H-2A rocket, days after the 48th H-2A rocket successfully placed a spy satellite into its planned orbit.

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