TOKYO — Talk about crash and burn. A rocket developed by a controversial Japanese entrepreneur burst into flames and crashed to earth in a fireball over the weekend.
The MOMO-2 rocket was developed by Interstellar Technologies, a startup that was partially crowd-funded and aims to lower the cost of space flight. Its founder is Takafumi Horie, a colorful Internet entrepreneur and convicted fraudster, who says he wants to start by putting small satellites into space and ultimately, like U.S. entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, send private citizens into space.
But his second major launch ended in spectacular failure on Saturday morning, according to Kyodo News. The 30-foot rocket was supposed to reach 60 miles into space: instead it barely managed to lift off before flames started to shoot from its base and it crashed back down to earth.
The crash, at a test site near the town of Taiki in Japan’s Hokkaido island, caused no injuries. It was the second failure for the startup after engineers lost contact with the first rocket 66 seconds after it launched last July. MOMO-1 fell into the sea after reaching a height of around 12 miles, the Nikkei Asian Review reported at the time.
In a Facebook post, Interstellar Technologies apologized for failing to meet the expectations of the hundreds of people who had traveled to Taiki town to watch the dawn launch, but said it would continue to “challenge the universe.”
Horie’s own career achieved spectacular lift-off when he dropped out of college to launch the internet portal Livedoor in 1995, becoming a symbol of a new, modern entrepreneur in Japan and an icon for many young people.
He flouted convention by wearing T-shirts rather than the conventional shirt and tie, but also raised eyebrows with his flashy lifestyle, driving a silver-blue Ferrari and owning a racehorse carrying his nickname Horiemon — due to his supposed resemblance to the manga-anime robotic cat Doraemon. He is the author of several bestselling books with titles such as “The One Who Makes Money Wins.”
He once branded Japan’s establishment a “club of old men,” but his attempts to shake-up the status quo were often thwarted — a bid to buy a baseball team and a hostile takeover of a major media conglomerate were both blocked, and his attempt to stand for parliament as an independent reform candidate in 2005 ended in defeat.
Horie’s career eventually crashed to earth when he was convicted of securities fraud in 2007 and served 21 months in prison. Unlike Musk and Bezos, whose personal fortunes have backed their space ambitions, funds have been running low for Horie’s Interstellar Technologies, forcing him to partially crowd-fund his latest launch, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
“Regretfully, it was a pitiful rocket failure this time,” Horie posted on Twitter. “But, we have already started running to the next step. The view from the control room right before the launch was this beautiful. I want to launch it successfully against this beautiful sky next time!”