Japan’s SS-520-5 Becomes World’s Smallest Satellite Launcher

Japan’s SS-520-5 launch vehicle has become the smallest ever to deploy a satellite into orbit. Not much more than a modified sounding rocket, the SS-520-5 stands at 9.54 meters tall and just 52 centimetres wide.


The diminutive rocket lifted off from the Uchinoura Space Center in the Kagoshima Prefecture of Japan at 05:03 GMT (14:03 JST) on February 3. Approximately 7 minutes and 30 seconds after its launch, the upper stage of the SS-520-5 deployed its TRICOM-1R nanosatellite payload into its target orbit.

A previous attempt to deploy a small payload into orbit aboard an SS-520 had been attempted in January 2017. Telemetry of SS-520-4 was lost shortly after its launch. After ground controllers were unable to regain contact with the rocket, an abort command arrested the ignition of the SS-520-4’s upper stage. The rocket fell harmlessly into the ocean within JAXA’s designated safety area.

The successful launch of the SS-520-5 rocket served as a proof of concept for a small satellite launcher. JAXA have no current plans to offer the rocket for commercial launches. However, Japanese officials have confirmed that there are plans for a low-cost “nano-launcher” based on the findings of the SS-520 project.

The TRICOM-1R nanosatellite was built by the University of Tokyo’s Intelligent Space Systems Laboratory and funded by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The nanosatellite is equipped with communications and earth-imaging equipment.

JAXA 2018 Launch Calendar

JAXA have now successfully launched two orbital missions in 2018. Prior to the SS-520-5 launch on Saturday, the agency launched the ASNARO-2 Earth observation satellite aboard an Epsilon-3 launch vehicle on January 18. On February 25, JAXA will attempt to launch the IGS Optical 6 satellite aboard the H-2A vehicle.

Image: JAXA

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Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.