1997 — several space enthusiasts gathered in an apartment room to chat about the possibility of launching microsatellites using ultra lightweight rockets.
They conceptualized an ultra-small rocket capable of delivering a few dozen grams
of payload into LEO, using a launch vehicle weighing under 1 ton.
The “chat” soon began to take shape.
Initial firing tests were conducted inside the apartment room bathtub,
then in Akabira, Hokkaido,
then in Taiki, Hokkaido.
Now, the dream is about to become reality.
Space enthusiasts gather to create “Natsu-no Rocket-dan”, Japanese for “Summer Rocket Club”,
comprising of a handful of engineers, journalists, and writers.
The enthusiasts join with a media production company, SNS Inc., to start working on a conceptual rocket engine.
Design and testing begins in Chiba, Japan.
Firing test of the first 300 N (66 lbf) thrust LOX-Ethanol fueled engine takes place.
SNS Inc. moves to Akabira, Hokkaido, to start work on larger engines.
A technology demonstrator for flight testing, producing 1 kN of thrust, is ready.
March: First test flight, “Haruichiban”, is successfully launched in Taiki, Hokkaido.
July: Second test flight, “Natsumatsuri”, is successfully launched.
December: Third test flight, “Yukiakari”, is successfully launched.
July: Airframe technology demonstrator “Ichigo” is launched. Engine upgraded to thrust capability of 2000 N (450 lbf).
January: SNS Inc. decides to separate its research department—Interstellar Technologies Inc. (IST) is born.
March: First launch of the 5000 N (1124 lbf) thrust engine demonstrator “Hinamatsuri” ends in failure.
August: Second launch, “Suzukaze”, is successful, reaching an altitude of 6 km.
November: First commercial launch order, for sounding rocket “Pocky”, is received from Ezaki Glico company for entertainment purposes.
Initial development of key technologies for the commercial sounding rocket “MOMO” begins.
August: Engine test facilities are installed in Taiki, Hokkaido. The first attitude control testbed “BLOCK1” is tested successfully.
December: Subsequent attitude control flight testbed “HOP” is tested successfully.
March: Research on gas generator and turbopump, for the orbital rocket “ZERO”, begins.
June: IST is awarded an R&D contract from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for several rocket engine key component technologies.
July: First flight test of “LEAP”, IST’s thrust vectoring testbed, is completed.
September: Second flight test, “LEAP2”, is completed.
January: Development of pressure-fed LOX-Ethanol engine, producing 12 kN (2700 lbf) of thrust to power the commercial sounding rocket “MOMO”, begins. IST is awarded an R&D contract from the University of Tokyo for pintle fuel injector technology.
IST is awarded R&D contract from the University of Tokyo for pintle fuel injector.
March: First firing of sounding rocket engine is successful, achieving 10 kN (2250 lbf) of thrust. Development of the orbital rocket “ZERO” using LOX-LNG gas-generator cycle begins.
May: Third flight test of “LEAP3” takes place.
July: Fourth and final flight test of “LEAP4” takes place. Engine testing is accelerated to achieve full thrust capacity. IST begins collecting funds for the first launch of “MOMO”, aiming to become the first privately funded company in Japan to launch a rocket exceeding an apogee of 100 km.
December: Main engine achieves 12 kN of sustained thrust for 80 seconds.
January: Thrust vectoring testing with the 12 kN engine is successfully completed.
July: First launch of sounding rocket “MOMO” ends in partial success. Vehicle suffers structural failure at around an altitude of 20 km and fails to reach target trajectory.
April: Development of upgraded sounding rocket “MOMO2” is complete. “MOMO2” is ready for service featuring updated structural design, hot gas roll thrusters, and a payload capacity of 20 kg.
June: First launch of “MOMO2” carrying infrasound equipment for Kochi University of Technology ends in a spectacular fire ball.
July: Root cause analysis of “MOMO2” is underway. Development of an upgraded “MOMO3” begins.
May: The launch of “MOMO3” is carried out, flying to an altitude of 113.4 km. IST becomes the first Japanese private company to reach space past the Kármán line.