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Japan Rocket May Have Leaked Fuel

November 17, 1999

TOKYO (AP) _ This week’s loss of a $94 million satellite just minutes after launch may have been caused by fuel leaking from a rocket booster, Japanese space officials said Wednesday.

The failed launch of the MTSAT satellite on Monday was the second this year caused by problems with the H-2 rocket, the key to Japan’s space program. The program is competing with Europe and the United States for a share of the commercial satellite-launching market.

Officials at the National Space Development Agency ordered the rocket destroyed after launch Monday when engine trouble developed and they feared the rocket might veer out of control.

Liquid hydrogen fuel flowing from cracked pipes probably caused the engine trouble, NASDA spokeswoman Makiko Nishihara said.

A video of the launch showed abnormal jets of gas shooting from the rocket’s main engine shortly after takeoff. This, along with flight data transmitted during the launch, provided clues about why the rocket malfunctioned, Nishihara said.

She said the agency was still investigating what might have caused the cracks in the pipes.

The failed launch was a major setback for Japan’s government-run program.

``This doesn’t just reflect poorly on the National Space Development Agency, it leaves serious doubts for Japan about the future of space as a business,″ said an editorial in the Nihon Keizai newspaper, Japan’s main business daily.

U.S. companies considering launching satellites with Japanese rockets might now reconsider, it said.

Over the past few years, Japan’s space program has been plagued by bureaucratic wrangling, cost overruns and technical difficulties. Still, it has successfully put a satellite in orbit around the moon and was the first to dock two satellites in space by remote control.

Concerned by the development of long-range missiles by its unpredictable communist neighbor, North Korea, Japan has promised to launch its first spy satellites in 2003.

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