Interstellar Technologies' privately developed MOMO-5 rocket falls short of reaching space

Darrell Etherington

Private launch companies seeking to lower the cost of reaching space continue to develop new vehicles, and the latest to attempt a trip to space is Interstellar Technologies (IST), a Japanese private launch company founded in 2003. The company first launched a vehicle in 2017, but the launch didn't go exactly as planned and failed to reach space. In 2019, its MOMO-3 sounding rocket did break the Karman line, though just barely. And, unfortunately, its MOMO-5 sounding rocket launched today did not make space as planned, instead apparently suffering some kind of malfunction and loss of control around the time it reached max Q, or the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure prior to exiting Earth's atmosphere.

MOMO-5 took off at 8:15 PM UTC (4:15 PM EDT), and liftoff seemed to go smoothly. This demonstration launch was meant to build on IST's existing development program and put it closer to establishing a new, affordable rocket option for redelivering small payloads to orbit using a small, affordable rocket that the company describes as a "family sedan for the stars."

IST's approach is interesting in that it doesn't claim to be cutting-edge; instead, the company says that it focuses on leveraging "legacy methods" of rocketry, along with advances including additive manufacturing and more modern materials to reduce costs as much as possible to lower the bar in terms of affordability to serve a wide range of customers. To some extent, that's similar to the approach taken by SpaceX and Rocket Lab, but IST's approach is even less focused on modernization, and more intent on efficiencies, than some of its operational competitors, which could theoretically give it a cost advantage once it starts serving companies with regular commercial launches.

MOMO-5 launched from Hokkaido, Japan, in a mission rescheduled from the end of 2019 and earlier this year due to a number of delays, including COVID-19 and the May holidays observed in the country. MOMO-5 measures a little over 30-feet tall, and weighs around 2,200 lbs, making it smaller than Rocket Lab's Electron.

IST says that MOMO-5 terminated its flight earlier than planned due to a manual "emergency stop" order delivered from the command center, and subsequently fell safely to the surface of the sea. More details about the cause of the early termination will be released later.

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