back to article Japan tries to launch satellite on rocket the size of a telegraph pole

From plants to pocket-sized radios, Japan has a long history of miniaturisation, but its first attempt to shrink a satellite-launching rocket has ended with the launcher ditching into the sea. The 2.6-tonne SS-520-4, about the size of a power pole, is a sounding rocket platform JAXA had hoped would set the record for the …

  1. jamesb2147
    Paris Hilton

    Where's the PARIS angle?

    Perhaps they needed some hands-on assistance from El Reg's LOHAN team.

    But is it any surprise that Japan needed help with their tiny rockets?

  2. Ole Juul Silver badge

    Telegraph pole?

    I'm old enough that I didn't have to look it up, but where do they actually still use telegraphs?

    1. jamesb2147

      Re: Telegraph pole?

      Is the proper term utility pole these days?

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Telegraph pole?

        Yes! It's certainly more interesting than the boring "utility pole".

        Besides, I believe that the one SR71 pilot who actually saw a Russian SAM come up to his flight level (plenty were launched but the crews rarely saw them with their own eyes) described that as looking like a telegraph pole. So I think small rockets have been similarly dubbed ever since.

    2. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Telegraph pole?

      Tele = long distance.

      graph = picture.

      Pole = someone from Poland.

      So, it's a picture of a person from Poland taken from a long distance away. Surely they're not that rare??

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Telegraph pole?

        It's a Tnuktipun Stage Log!

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Telegraph pole?

        Silly me, thinking "graph" had something to do with WRITING...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Telegraph pole?

          You can still find them along railroad tracks. They're about half the size of a phone pole.

      3. emess

        Re: Telegraph pole?

        Graph = Greek - from 'graphein' write, express by written characters

        /pedantry

    3. King Jack

      Re: Telegraph pole?

      There are many telegraph poles around here. still in use.

    4. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Telegraph pole?

      @Ole Juul

      Reading room of the British Library.

  3. bazza Silver badge

    Good Effort

    The idea of a small cheap orbital launcher is very attractive. And this nearly worked. I do wonder though, a few million to launch this sounds expensive in comparison to hitching a cheaper ride on the back of a bigger satellite's launch (typically that costs a few tens of thousands of pounds). That is how cube sats have been launched to date.

    Is Everything As It Seems?

    This was intended as a launcher to get some about 4kg into an orbit about 2000km up. So it could put something a bit heavier into low earth orbit. Or something even heavier into a sub orbital hop. Or something heavier again a few hundred miles.

    If that something were a small nuke, they'd have a pretty handy little intercontinental nuclear armed missile, or (bigger again) a good short range tactical weapon. It could also probably serve as the booster for an interception weapon to take out other missiles.

    There's a lot of concern in Japan about North Korea's military capabilities and sanity. There's also some worry that a Trump administration in the US won't stick to its treaty obligations to guarantee Japanese security in return for billions hard earned dollars. In his campaigning Trump essentially threatened to withdraw US forces from the western Pacific because he was fed up of Japan getting it's security for free. On being told that, actually, Japan pays a huge sum of cash annually for hosting US forces, he said that it wasn't enough.

    Understandably this has caused some consternation in Japan, with plenty of people pointing out that without US forces (especially a few choice anti-missile systems) Japan is adjacent to and undefended from the world's craziest nuclear armed regime, and a power vacuum would also allow the Chinese to move into the Western Pacific in a bigger way.

    So the unpredictable Trump (aren't they always?) actually gets elected, and the Japanese launch this thing, but they have a good excuse for not lighting up the second stage and completing the flight (which would betray its true capability). It may not be entirely coincidental. I think that we may be seeing something of this again, possibly painted green, on a mobile launch platform. And with the way things are going, that'd probably be a good thing.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Good Effort

      You seem to forget that, having had nuclear weapons used on them, the Japanese have an absolute horror of them. Without the declared threat (which the Japanese people wouldn't stand for) atom bombs aren't any use defensively, so why would they bother, especially given that the rocket isn't any use in lofting anything but the smallest battlefield weapons?

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Good Effort

        "You seem to forget that, having had nuclear weapons used on them, the Japanese have an absolute horror of them."

        And they're pretty determined that no one will ever use them again on Japan. They've not had to do anything about it since WWII on account of the treaty arrangements between Japan and the USA, which Trump has threatened to break.

        "Without the declared threat (which the Japanese people wouldn't stand for) atom bombs aren't any use defensively, so why would they bother, especially given that the rocket isn't any use in lofting anything but the smallest battlefield weapons?"

        Er, have you seen the kind of guff that North Korea puts out daily? Besides, it's no good whinging about undeclared threats if the mini-ICBM is already on its way over from the peninsular.

        That kind of thinking led to the policy of appeasement leading up to WWII, which nearly lost us (the UK) the war. The exact same arguments we had then are going in Japanese society even now.

        With the two countries so close together you don't need massive range. North Korea has been launching quite small rockets over the top of Japan for years, gives them the collie wobbles every time.

        As for why bother, that's a question that can be equally applied to the USA, UK and France. At least two of those countries have been using nuclear weapons for defensive purposes only. Answer: mutually assured destruction is no comfort (not really), but you'd rather have the option of bringing it about than not. Especially when the other country already has a bomb, nearly has a warhead, has a missile, has stated an intent to inflict harm on its neighbours and the USA if it can reach it, and a political insanity that does not encourage belief in their self-restraint. Faced with that, it would immensely surprising that Japan and South Korea (and even China!) didn't take substantive steps to ensure that such a threat (theoretical or not) was neutralised, at least to some extent. Japan can develop a nuclear warhead of its own if it wants to, it has the underlying nuclear industry required to produce the plutonium.

        Historically countries faced with a nuclear threat have gone on to do so (India & Pakistan, Russia & West, China & West, Israel & Syria / Iraq / Iran / Libya). I don't see why Japan would necessarily be any different if the USA walks out on its treaty obligations.

        Besides, as I've already written, a small nuke is not the only strategically useful payload that can be lofted on something of this size. It's far more likely that they'd concentrate on an interception capability first (something that the USA already fields on their behalf, but seemingly now might not be counted on). An interception capability is less "aggressive", and stands a good chance of succeeding. North Korea almost certainly doesn't have the industrial capability to produce large numbers of missiles and warheads. Shooting down one or two missiles is far easier than shooting down several hundred. Japan hasn't had a vehicle of this size available to them previously. Arguably, they do now (failed launch or not).

        If the USA walks out of the Pacific, the countries that are traditional allies of the USA (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines [though their current president seems to be taking leave of his senses], Malaysia, Thailand, even Vietnam these days) will feel immense pressure to tool up. Japan already is, it's built some aircraft carriers in recent years, lots of pretty good submarines too. Everyone knows that China is tooling up fast, has been for years and already has nuclear weapons.

    2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Good Effort

      That's the thing about trumps) it's always worse when they follow through....

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Good Effort

      Understandably this has caused some consternation in Japan, with plenty of people pointing out that without US forces (especially a few choice anti-missile systems) Japan is adjacent to and undefended from the world's craziest nuclear armed regime, and a power vacuum would also allow the Chinese to move into the Western Pacific in a bigger way.

      Sounds like something from the Hillary/Neocon prayer book.

      Japan has to deal with its regional problems on its own terms. The US forces (and the US for that matter) won't be around forever.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Good Effort

        "Japan has to deal with its regional problems on its own terms. The US forces (and the US for that matter) won't be around forever."

        Why not? It's "Defence as a Service" and if the customer keeps paying, why remove the profitable service? That's capitalism and business. Something Trump claims to understand.

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Good Effort

        "Sounds like something from the Hillary/Neocon prayer book."

        Hmm, you don't pay attention to the goings on in North Korea and the Western Pacific much, do you. Are you some kinda commie China stooge?

        "Japan has to deal with its regional problems on its own terms. The US forces (and the US for that matter) won't be around forever."

        Except that Japan pays a vast fortune to host US forces. Unlike NATO, where there's no membership fee as such, the Japan US mutual security treaty involves a very large payment. That's something Trump was unaware of, and when made aware declared the sum inadequate. The treaty does allow one party to terminate it with 1 year's notice.

        However there's been some recent adjustments related to moving Kadena, for which the Japanese have also agreed to pay, and this may have included an alteration to the termination clauses.

        Cancelling all that now would be very poor form indeed so far as diplomatic codes of conduct are concerned. It also doesn't fit with Trump's apparent pro-Taiwan stance; he cannot support them without military bases being close at hand, and they're all in Japan.

        Trump is generally making noises about withdrawing from all sorts of treaties. That's not going to do the USA any good. It'll make doing business with the US more hassle than its worth. And it's not like the USA has any money these days.

  4. Esme

    Shame they're not persisting

    If Jaxa don't go for this, my money's on Compenhagen Suborbitals having a go at it, once they've achieved their ambition of launching someone on a sub-orbital hop. Although I wouldn't be at all surprised if India attempted a 'smallest rocket to orbit' launch sometime.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Go

    Altitude <> velocity.

    And it's orbital velocity that this had to achieve.

    BTW Japan has a history of launching small sats into orbit on small(ish) solid fuel rockets dating back to the 60's.

    A few $m for a few cubesats to orbit is about the target of the NZ "Electron" LV as well.

    The Japanese tend to take a long view of things and I think they will try again.

    I wish them better luck next time.

  6. Your alien overlord - fear me

    But whose going to be the first to launch an actual telegraph pole into space? That'd be a backup for the ISS if they lost radio communication !!!!!

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Coat

      But whose going to be the first to launch an actual telegraph pole into space?

      The Scots try manual launches from Braemar every so often, but they never seem to get very far.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        In that case I suggest

        I suggest shipping a large supply of baked beans to Braemar.

    2. Oldfogey
      Go

      Telegraph poles into orbit?

      Trivia - lets get the first Albert Memorial to the moon!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reg units?

    Is the telegraph pole a recognised unit for use on here, is it's use restricted to rockets?

    There seems to some abiguitry in dimensions, so they seem a fine candidate for inclusion.

    "How big are telegraph poles ?

    No hard and fast answer. But 30ft (9m) would be a good average pole.

    They are classed for width as (L) Light, (M) Medium, (H) Heavy or the less commonly used Stout."

    (http://www.telegraphpoleappreciationsociety.org/faq)

    1. kmac499

      Re: Reg units?

      I haven't checked the numbers but alitudes of 800km and 2000.km sound awfully ambitious for a glorified sounding rocket. Thats twice the altitude of the ISS for the off the shelf model??

      Is there a decimal point slippage somewhere ??

      1. ridley

        Re: Reg units?

        Nowhere in the article does it say that it could put the object into orbit just to 800/2000km up. I doubt a sounding rocket has the capability even if tweaked to get anything into orbit.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. kmac499

          Re: Reg units?

          I agreee no orbital claims of 800/2000km . It just seemed very high for a small rocket on a straight up and down flight. I'll cheerfully admit if I'm wrong and Hats off to the team that launched it whatever the numbers.

          As I've often said "Rocket Science = Easy", "Rocket Engineering = Tricky"

        3. Tony Haines

          Re: Reg units?

          "Nowhere in the article does it say that it could put the object into orbit just to 800/2000km up."

          But it did say satellite - which orbits by definition.

    2. The_H

      Re: Reg units?

      Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society?

      Lordy. Some days, I really love the www.

      1. ricardian

        Re: Reg units?

        http://www.insulators.info/

  8. Dabooka Silver badge

    Why not have another go?

    Seems strange the plans were not going to include a repeat. Surely it wouldn't have to be success dependant to expect another punt?

    Best of luck though, get back to the sheds and whack another another one up!

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Why not have another go?

      This being Japan, probably nixed due to internecine bureaucratic/politicial/face-saving struggles with at least two Yakuza in the lobby.

  9. Nimby
    Mushroom

    Can we have some clarification?

    "set the record for the smallest rocket to carry a satellite to space"

    I am assuming there would be a minimum weight requirement, as well as something like a "successful orbit of x" distance requirement for this "record"? Otherwise I'm sure any interested vulture could accomplish something that vague...

    Personally, I'd be far more impressed if Japan (or anyone!) were to design a Terrestrial Electromagnetic Cubesat Coilgun. TECC is greener and more practical.

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