Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to build next-gen rocket: report

Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. plans to spend a total of 5 billion yen ($43.8 million) to prepare facilities for manufacturing the next-generation H-IIB domestic rocket, slated for launch in fiscal 2008, according to The Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

The major heavy machinery manufacturer plans to modify and expand its welding facility for the rocket's fuel tanks at its main plant in AichiPrefecture. It will also construct a new building with a floor space of about 900 square meters, scheduled to start operations in February 2007, on an adjacent plot of land.


The firm is introducing a new friction welding technology to make the H-IIB lighter.


At its HiroshimaPrefecture facility, the firm has set aside space to start producing domes - key bowl-shaped parts that make up the top and bottom sections of fuel tanks - as early as this month. Because these domes need to be processed into spherical shapes with a high degree of precision, the H-IIA rocket currently in operation relies on imports.


With a diameter of 5 meters and a length of 56 meters, the larger H-IIB is expected to offer double the launch capability of the H-IIA. It can carry two satellites at the same time or a large transfer vehicle to resupply the International Space Station.


Japan's rocket launches have been handled by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which is under the control of the Science Ministry. But a new setup taking effect in fiscal 2007 will allow Mitsubishi Heavy to receive orders for satellite launches from both the government and private sector.


In anticipation of this, Mitsubishi Heavy consolidated its rocket manufacturing operations earlier this fiscal year. The H-IIB would be the first rocket in which the firm would be involved from the development stage onward.



While launching the H-IIA costs about 10 billion yen, the H-IIB will be able to launch two satellites for an estimated 13 billion yen. This will reduce per-satellite launch costs to the level of US and European firms, such as Arianespace.


Mitsubishi Heavy hopes to win orders for launching commercial satellites, which is a new area for the firm.


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