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Japan cancels first launch of Epsilon rocket 19 seconds before liftoff

Japan's Epsilon rocket was all set for its first test flight Tuesday before the launch was aborted. The rocket is equipped with artificial intelligence to perform its own health checks before and during launchJAXA

The first launch of Japan's newest rocket, the next-generation Epsilon booster, hit a major last-minute snag Tuesday, forcing the country's space agency to abort the spaceflight 19 seconds before liftoff.

The glitch occurred extremely late in the countdown for the Epsilon rocket, which was slated to blast off from a seaside pad at the Uchinoura Space Center in southern Japan. The rocket was set to launch Tuesday at 12:45 a.m. EDT, which was 1:45 p.m. Japan Standard Time at the launch site.

Officials with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) counted nearly all the way down to liftoff time, but the Epsilon rocket remained on its launch pad in live webcast views provided by the space agency. [See More Photos of Japan's Epsilon Rocket]

"Today's launch was canceled," JAXA officials wrote in a Twitter update. "More details will be reported as further information becomes available."

An artist's conception of the SPRINT-A spacecraft in space.JAXA

A later updated from JAXA stated that the launch abort occured "because an automatic stop alarm was issued as an attitude abnormality was detected approximately 19 seconds prior to the liftoff time during the automatic countdown sequence." The cause of the abort alarm is under investigation, JAXA officials added.

JAXA's Epsilon rocket is a three-stage rocket that stands 78 feet (24 meters) tall and is solid propellant. The rocket weighs 91 tons and is designed to launch satellites weighing up to 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit. The rocket's two upper stages are based on Japan's M-V rocket launch vehicle, which was retired in 2006.

For its first mission, the Epsilon rocket is carrying JAXA's Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A) satellite, an orbital observatory designed to study the other planets in the solar system. JAXA officials have touted the SPRINT-A satellite as the "world's first space telescope for remote observation of the planets such as Venus, Mars, and Jupiter from the orbit around the Earth."

The launch was originally scheduled for Aug. 22, but was delayed to allow JAXA engineers time to address concerns with the rocket's ground support equipment.  

The Epsilon rocket features autonomous systems to conduct its own status checks in order to cut down on the amount of time and people required to track the rocket's health during launch. Its launch controls are also streamlined, allowing them to be overseen by laptop computers, JAXA officials have said.

In a rocket description, JAXA officials said the Epsilon rocket is aimed at enabling more frequent rocket launches by lowering the operational costs of missions.

"Through increased launch opportunities, we anticipate that space development activity will increase," JAXA officials state in an Epsilon rocket description. "The biggest goal of the Epsilon Launch Vehicle is to make space more accessible as rocket launches are made easier."

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