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Japan’s Latest Attempt at Private Spaceflight Fails on Liftoff

This combo of video grabs provided by Interstellar Technologies shows the failed launch of the rocket MOMO-2 in Taiki, Kokkaido prefecture, on June 30, 2018. JIJI PRESS AFP/Getty Images

Japan’s latest attempt at a privately funded space launch ended in a fiery explosion on liftoff Saturday. Interstellar Technologies’ MOMO-2 launched at 5:30 am Saturday Japan time (4:30 p.m. Friday ET), but crashed back to the launchpad almost immediately. MOMO-2 was only the company’s second launch attempt, and would have been the first privately funded space launch in Japan.

According to AFP, no injuries were reported, and Interstellar Techologies announced via Facebook that there was no damage to large equipment at the launch site.

The crash was particularly disappointing and surprising, since the company’s first rocket launch successfully reached an altitude of 100km (62 miles) before failure. Interstellar Technologies founder Takafumi Horie told reporters that “we have never seen a failure like this.” The company’s president stated that while Saturday’s launch fell short, they would “like to keep giving it a shot.”

The company has not cited a cause for the crash, but video of the failed launch shows bursts of flame around the thruster nozzle just before the rocket loses lift and crashes back to earth.

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Much like SpaceX and Blue Origin, Interstellar Technologies is a bid to join the space race by a charismatic tech entrepreneur. Horie founded Interstellar Technologies after a career marked by both huge success and huge scandal. He launched the internet portal Livedoor in 1995 after dropping out of prestigious Tokyo University, and grew it by 2005 to a market value of nearly $8 billion.

But his ambition and flashy lifestyle, according to the Financial Times, made him a target for Japanese regulators. In 2006, he was charged with manipulating stocks through rumors spread on Livedoor, and eventually served 21 months in prison.

Horie founded Interstellar Technologies in 2003, and much like SpaceX, it is aimed at lowering the cost of space flight. But Horie has dealt with obstacles including not only prison time, but dwindling resources. Livedoor collapsed in 2006 in what has been described as “Japan’s Enron,” and Horie’s current net worth has been estimated at less than $50 million. The company’s latest launch was funded in part through crowdfunding, which according to the Japan Times raised slightly over $250,000, a substantial portion of the estimated cost of roughly $450,000 for each Interstellar Technologies launch.