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Japan's new solid-fuel rocket lifts off from the launch pad at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Uchinoura Space Center in Kimotsuki, Kagoshima prefecture, on Japan's southern island of Kyushu Saturday.

Japan Uses Laptops, Cost-Cutting To Launch Rocket Into Space

By Bill Chappell NPR

Japan has sent a space telescope into orbit, as its new Epsilon rocket delivered its payload Saturday. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency says the successful launch is a step toward its goal “to lower hurdles to space” by simplifying rocket launches and making them more affordable. The launch was reportedly done via laptop.

“Japan hopes the rocket, launched with just two laptop computers in a pared-down command centre, will become competitive in the global space business,” reports Phys.org.

The space agency, known as JAXA, says it was also able to cut costs by having the space vehicle perform checks of its own mission-readiness autonomously, and by shortening the length of time it takes to prepare for a launch. The Epsilon rocket uses solid fuel.

“Costing just $37-million (albeit not directly comparable, NASA claims a typical launch costs around $450-million) to send off, Jaxa… rightly considers it a steal,” reports Engadget.

As part of its approach, JAXA says, it’s developing equipment standards that can be used across several vehicles. Describing its long-term plan, the agency says, “Ultimately, through [the] internet, we will be able to check and control rockets anywhere in the world simply by using a laptop computer.”

The new satellite, which will focus its attention on the planets Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, was launched from the Uchinoura Space Center.

Called the Spectroscopic Planet Observatory for Recognition of Interaction of Atmosphere (SPRINT-A), the satellite has been given the nickname of Hisaki, according to JAXA, in honor of a cape near its launch site.

And the space telescope’s name also hints at its goals.

“Our observation targets are beyond (“saki” in Japanese) the sun (“Hi” in Japanese),” JAXA says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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