A fire broke out at a rocket launch pad on Tanegashima Island in southwestern Japan early Wednesday, prompting the cancelation of a scheduled launch of a rocket carrying an unmanned spacecraft bound for the International Space Station, the operator said.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd planned to launch the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's supply vessel Kounotori8 using an H-2B rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture at 6:33 a.m. local time Wednesday.
The Kounotori8, named using the Japanese word for "white stork," was intended to deliver about 5.3 tons of supplies to astronauts at the space station, including food and water as well as batteries and devices needed for experiments, according to the agency.
Mitsubishi Heavy said it decided to cancel the launch to check for possible damage to the rocket. There is only one launch pad suitable for an H-2B rocket at the space center so the impact could be substantial if the fire caused serious damage.
Even if there is no damage, the next launch will likely be this weekend at the earliest.
"We feel great responsibility," said Atsutoshi Tamura, a Mitsubishi Heavy executive directing the launch.
The company said it confirmed the fire was burning at around 3:05 a.m. at the foot of the launch pad, apparently near a vent designed to allow engine exhaust and flames to escape as the rocket takes off.
The space agency said it is the first time that one of its rocket launches has been delayed by fire, adding that the space station has sufficient food and other items so astronauts would not be unduly impacted by the delay.
The company said there were no abnormalities when the rocket was put on the launch pad on Tuesday afternoon and that it has not confirmed there was a fuel leak.© KYODO