JAXA Plans to Market Epsilon as Commercial Rocket

JAXA's Epsilon rocket on its first test flight. (Credit: JAXA)
JAXA’s Epsilon rocket on its first test flight. (Credit: JAXA)

Aviation Week reports that Japan is looking to commercialize its new Epsilon small-satellite launch vehicle, which flew successfully for the first time earlier this month:

Morita says the prototype Epsilon rocket, known as the E-X, is able to loft 1.2 metric tons to orbit for about $38 million (¥3.8 billion), though the inaugural mission launched this month from Japan’s Uchinoura Space Center cost closer to $53 million, a figure he says includes the rocket’s intensive test regime.

By 2015, however, JAXA plans to launch an interim variant of the three-stage Epsilon, known as the E-1 Dash, which will incorporate enhancements, including lighter avionics components, to deliver payloads weighing 1.4 metric tons to low Earth orbit for $38 million per launch.

If these missions go well, JAXA hopes to debut a more powerful version of Epsilon in 2017 that will deliver 1.8 metric tons to low Earth orbit for $30 million per launch.

Europe’s new Vega rocket, capable of launching up to 2.5 metric tons into low Earth orbit, costs approximately €32 million ($42 million) per flight.

  • savuporo

    Falcon 1 was pulled off the market, due to claimed lack of payloads at much lower price point.

  • Robert Horning

    It wasn’t just the lack of payloads, it was also the fact that the Falcon 9 could deliver those same payloads at a much cheaper price to the same orbital characteristics when carried as secondary payloads, and almost all of the customers SpaceX was working with that needed something like a Falcon 1 were willing to sign on as secondary payloads in the comparatively large manifest of Falcon 9 flights.

    There wasn’t much of a market for a dedicated small launcher as the larger rockets really are more efficient in terms of cost per pound delivered into orbit… assuming that economies of scale applied to those larger launchers too. The one advantage that a dedicated launcher might provide is potentially higher reliability or fewer conflicts with the primary launch customer. It could certainly be argued that the Falcon 9 is much more reliable as a vehicle to deliver stuff into orbit than the Falcon 1 ever was, so even that advantage is moot.

  • Robert Gishubl

    You also had the issues of concentrating on getting Falcon 9 operational instead of splitting efforts between 2 rockets as well as maintaining seperate launch infrastructure. Top that off with Falcon 1 was effectively a prototype for Falcon 9 and it had served its purpose.
    Also the re-usability of parachuts proved impractical and flyback with one maine engine not being practical too deep a throtle require,ment and not enough reason to keep it on the manifest.

  • Douglas Messier

    My understanding is that the market issues were not that important. It was mostly that Elon didn’t want to continue with the program. Here’s a guy who at every opportunity brings up his dream of sending people to Mars. Launching small payloads to LEO would have been a distraction both thematically and business wise. The plan is: Falcon 9 –> Falcon 9 v1.1 –> Falcon Heavy –> methane engine –> Red Dragon –> humans to Mars. Where does Falcon 1 fit into that?

    It was a shame, though. I ran into someone who wanted to send a satellite up on a Falcon 1, whose launch cost was affordable. He went back to SpaceX later looking at flying it as a secondary payload and found the cost of that would be much higher.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    If I remember correctly (and I do cos I just checked wikipedia), the Falcon 1e was $11million for a lift of a little over 1 tonne. I’m bound to agree with Robert and Robert, it was a matter of looking toward reusability. The ongoing theme of the SpaceX methodology is production “commonalities” – see here for a recent reiteration of this approach:
    http://www.spacex.com/news/2013/09/24/production-spacex).
    I think Falcon 1 was a distraction from economies of scale and streamlined (common) production lines.

    Also, as previously alluded to, secondary payload prices should easily outstrip dedicated small-launcher prices by using a more efficient reusable launch system. And I think a pre-condition for a long term push to Mars, or anywhere else, is a low cost and vibrant LEO ecosystem. Surely, the MCT will have to fly/sail/? orbit to orbit, rather than surface to surface.

  • However, the Falcon 1e could also be made reusable. And in fact its first stage would be a good fit for DARPA’s new reusable booster stage program.

    Bob Clark

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    A small structure weighs more relative to the volume of propellent it can hold, and the mass of landing legs does not reduce linearly, all to the detriment of smaller vehicles. To make it reusable it would probably end up being a Falcon 3.

    On the face of it DARPA’s reasoning appears to be that smaller launchers should be cheaper and more easily reusable (although, perhaps motivated by some questionable strategic/tactical aspirations). However, although smaller launchers are cheaper, they are less efficient and so are more expensive on a cost/kg basis. Also, because of their inferior mass fractions it is considerably more difficult to make a smaller vehicle reusable. Also, the DARPA requirement was stated as 3000-5000lbs. (that’s 1.36-2.27tonnes in 21st century language), so Falcon 1e would not have qualified.

  • The Merlin 1D weighs about 200 kg less than the Merlin 1C, which can go to extra payload. It also has slightly better Isp, but significantly better thrust. This will also increase the payload. The result is a Falcon 1e powered by a Merlin 1D probably would be at or above the low end of the DARPA required payload range.

    Bob Clark

  • savuporo