H-IIA Rocket

IGS Optical 7 | H-IIA 202

Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
February 9, 2020 – 01:34:00 UTC | 10:34:00 JST
Mission Name
Flight F41: IGS Optical 7
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI)
(Who’s paying for this?)
Cabinet Satellite Information Center, Japan
H-IIA 202
Launch Location
Launch Area Y, Tanegashima Space Center, Japan
Payload mass
Unknown, but probably no more than ~4,000 kg (~9000 pounds)
Where are the satellites going?
Sun-Synchronous Polar Orbit (Initially ~500 km)
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No. JAXA / MHI rockets do not have this capability
Where will the first stage land?
It will crash back into the ocean
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
Are these fairings new?
This will be the:
41st flight of the H-IIA rocket
1st flight for JAXA in 2020
Where to watch
Official Livestream

What’s all this mean?

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is launching the third in a sequence of three Intelligence Gathering Satellites (IGS), called Optical 7, on an H-IIA 202 rocket provided by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI).

The H-IIA 202 rocket carrying the intelligence-gathering satellite will lift off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, southern Japan, at 01:00 UTC on January 27, 2020. It will place the satellite into orbit some 20 minutes later. The Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which carry out the launch, don’t publish all the launch details, such as the altitude of the satellite release, for security reasons.

The H-IIA center booster is a liquid hydrogen (LH2)/ liquid oxygen(LOX) fuelled rocket, with a single LE-7A engine running on a staged combustion cycle.

The upper stage also uses LH2 / LOX (this allows for common ground support equipment, which is good) and a single LE-5B engine, which uses the expander bleed cycle. This involves cooling the rocket nozzle and combustion chamber using just some of the propellant, whilst simultaneously warming up this portion of propellant, converting it from liquid form to gaseous form so that it can be used in the turbine to drive the turbopump. On exit from the turbine, this gaseous propellant is treated as exhaust and it does not undergo combustion.

So what does the 202 number mean? Well, the H-IIA has four different configurations, with different numbers and types of side boosters and payload fairing, depending on the mass/volume of the overall payload. In all four cases, there are at least two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) strapped on either side of the center core. The center core, and 3 out of 4 fairing types listed below, all have a 4 meter diameter.

Here is a breakdown of the different launch configurations:

  • 202   – this just has the regular 2 SRBs, and a 4S fairing (53 m length)
  • 2022 – this has the same 2 SRBs, but also has 2 different solid strap-on boosters (SSBs), and the same 4S basic fairing
  • 2024 – this has the same 2 SRBs, but also has 4 different solid strap-on boosters (SSBs), and an extended length 4/4D-LC fairing (57 m)
  • 204   – this has 4 of the regular SRBs, but no SSBs, and an extended diameter 5S fairing (53 m length, but 5 meter fairing)

Because of the extra initial boost for the 2024 and 204 configurations, the main center booster has a longer nozzle that is slightly more of a hybrid between sea level and vacuum, when compared with the standard seal-level nozzle shape on the 202 and 2022. The underlying motor (turbo-pumps and combustion chamber) is the same in all four cases.

Two other launch configurations were planned, but were canceled without ever being used. The SRBs are made by IHI Corporation of Japan, and are technically named “SRB-A”. The SSBs, however, are Castor 4A-XL motors, built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS), formerly Thiokol, in the USA!

H-IIA, which first flew in 2001, is an expendable launch system operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) for JAXA. The liquid-fuelled H-IIA rockets can put satellites into geostationary orbit, launch spacecraft capable of going to lunar orbit, and has even launched Akatsuki, which went to the planet Venus!

As of December 2017, H-IIA rockets had achieved 31 consecutive missions without a failure, a record starting as long ago as November 29, 2003.

IGS-Optical 7

The IGS-Optical 7 (Intelligence Gathering Satellite) is designed to capture images of the Earth’s surface from hundreds of kilometers up. It is the third satellite to be launched, as part of the third-generation Japanese optical reconnaissance satellite cluster.

OK, let’s be honest here – this one’s an out-and-out spy satellite. Japan started this program as a direct result of North Korea conducting a test of a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan’s territory back in 1988!

The satellites are operated by the Cabinet Satellite Information Center of Japan. The satellite serves both Japan’s national defense and civil natural disaster monitoring. Some of them operate as optical sensing devices and others use radar to study the target area on the ground. As you can tell from the name, this one is well, optical.

Reports suggest that these satellites are capable of achieving a ground resolution better than 40 cm (just over 1 foot)! That’s crazy.

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