An H-2A rocket under construction at a factory in Tobishima, Aichi Prefecture, in December 2015 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
The H-2A rocket, mainstay of Japan's space program since 2001, will be retired within several years to make way for a new generation of launch vehicle.
The made-in-Japan H-2A has an outstanding success record. Its final mission is scheduled in fiscal 2023, the science ministry announced March 8.
The H-2B, which has been used for resupply missions to the International Space Station, will also be retired after its final mission in fiscal 2019. Both H-2 models will be replaced by a next-generation H-3 rocket, now under development.
Last month marked the 30th launch using an H-2A rocket since its first mission in 2001.
According to the transition plan submitted by the science ministry to the Committee on National Space Policy of the Cabinet Office, 19 more H-2A missions are planned before the end of fiscal 2023. These are to send satellites into orbit for weather analysis and information-gathering.
The schedule is subject to change due to a possible delay in the development of the new rocket or increased demand from overseas satellite operators.
The first flight of the new generation H-3 rocket is scheduled in fiscal 2020 with an Earth observation satellite onboard. Ensuring stable operation of the H-3 is one of the conditions for the H-2A decommissioning.