Japan has launched a new rocket, using nothing but a laptop to send the solid-fueled vehicle into space.

The rocket blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Centre in Kagoshima, in south-west Japan, launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Centre (JAXA) and cheered on by hundreds of spectators both in Kagoshima and at a public viewing site in Tokyo.

It is hoped that this new Epsilon rocket will pave the way for a new, affordable generation of space rockets, having cost £23m, half as much to develop as its predecessor. Indeed, the previous M-5 model was withdrawn from service in 2006, as JAXA was unable to meet the rapidly rising maintenance costs.

At 24 metres long and with a weight of 91 tons, the model itself is much smaller than previous Epsilon designs, and uses artificial intelligence to perform safety checks, meaning it requires much less manpower than other space rockets. Indeed, as well as being much less expensive to develop, the launch process itself was also much cheaper than regular space rocket launches, as its use of AI and laptop computer-based command system reduced the amount of workers on site from the average 150 people to a mere eight.

Japan hopes this stripped-down approach will become competitive in the global space business. Epsilon was initially due to be launched on August 27th, but was called off at the last second – literally – after a ground control computer detected a positional abnormality, which was later found to be a false alarm. The space rocket will orbit Earth, and will observe planets remotely, including Mars, Venus and Jupiter.

Sources include: BBC News and Japan Today


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