Watch Japan launch its H3 rocket on return-to-flight mission tonight

Japan's new H3 rocket will attempt to bounce back from an explosive failure tonight (Feb. 16), and you can watch the action live.

The H3 is scheduled to lift off from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center tonight during a nearly four-hour window that opens at 7:22 p.m. EST (0022 GMT and 9:22 a.m. Japan Standard Time on Feb. 17). The launch was originally planned for Wednesday (Feb. 14), but bad weather forced a two-day delay.

You can watch it live here at, courtesy of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or directly via JAXA. Coverage will begin around 6:20 p.m. EST (2320 GMT).

Related: Japan's new H3 rocket fails on 1st test flight, advanced Earth observation satellite lost

The H3 has flown just once before, on a test flight in March 2023 that attempted to send the DAICHI-3 Earth-observation satellite to orbit. The rocket's second-stage engine failed to ignite on that mission, however, resulting in loss of the satellite.

On tonight's flight, the H3 will carry two small Earth-observation satellites, called CE-SAT-IE and TIRSAT, to sun-synchronous orbit. The main payload, however, is a 5,900-pound (2,600-kilogram) mass simulator, which is standing in for a big-ticket spacecraft.

"The primary purpose of this mission is to evaluate the performance of the H3 rocket and its payload deployment mechanism," wrote in a mission description.

JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have been developing the H3 for the past decade. The rocket — which stands either 187 feet or 207 feet (57 or 63 meters) tall depending on the choice of payload fairing — will eventually replace Japan's venerable H-2A rocket, which debuted in 2001.

The H-2A hasn't been put out to pasture yet, however. It lofted the IGS Optical 8 spy satellite for the Japanese government last month, for example. And, in September 2023, it sent Japan's SLIM lander on its way to the moon. SLIM touched down on the lunar surface on Jan. 19, making Japan just the fifth nation to land softly on Earth's nearest neighbor.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.