SINGAPORE — Japanese industrial conglomerate Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) is on track to launch its Epsilon rocket later this year, carrying the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Sprint-A planetary observatory.

Aritsune Kawabe, aero engines and space operations general manager for IHI, says Epsilon’s launch will be in August. The solid-fuel rocket is designed to launch satellites up to 1.2 tons into low Earth orbit, and satellites weighing up to 0.45 tons into Sun-synchronous orbit, he says.

Kawabe says IHI’s space business generated $580 million in revenue last year compared to $2.7 billion in revenue from its jet engine business. IHI develops and makes military and commercial jet engines. For example, it is involved in the International Aero Engine V2500 program.

JAXA says modifications are under way at Uchinoura Space Center to make the site more efficient for small missions.

The three-stage Epsilon design includes an autonomous checkout system and mobile ground-tracking and control, along with user-friendly characteristics that include low acoustic vibration levels at ignition, a new vibration attenuator to improve the sinusoidal vibration environment and accurate orbit injection using a liquid-propelled upper stage.

Japan approved development of the next-generation launcher in 2010 with a target cost of $271 million. JAXA says launch costs are expected to be high initially, at ¥3.8 billion ($49 million) in 2013. But a two-step development process aims to improve Epsilon’s cost and performance, and a second flight of the rocket slated for 2015 will offer a payload-carrying capacity of 550 kg to SSO. By 2017, the agency will introduce a post-Epsilon rocket using lighter materials that can perform launches at the lower price of roughly $39 million.