Photo/IllutrationFire is seen at the launch pad of the H-2B Launch Vehicle No. 8 on Tanegashima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, on Sept. 11. (Minako Yoshimoto)

TANEGASHIMA ISLAND, Kagoshima Prefecture--A scheduled cargo launch to the International Space Station on Sept. 11 was called off after fire broke out around the base of the launch platform.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which was in charge of the operation, said the fire started around 3:05 a.m.

It announced the cancellation of the launch using an H-2B rocket shortly after 4 a.m. and said the mission was scrapped for the day.

The fire was centered around the base of the movable launch pad for the H-2B Launch Vehicle No. 8 at the Tanegashima Space Center in Minami-Tanegashima here.

The rocket had been transported on the launch pad from its point of assembly on Sept. 10, marking the final phase of preparations for the launch, which was scheduled for 6:33 a.m.

Shortly after 3 a.m., a blaze suddenly emerged, and black smoke that billowed around the rocket could be seen from the media center about 3 kilometers away.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries used remote-control systems to hose the site with water.

The blaze lasted for two hours and appeared to be out by 5 a.m., although it was not immediately possible to confirm that the fire had been extinguished.

No one was able to approach the site because the rocket was loaded with liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants.

The rocket was defueled around 11 a.m. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries planned to send personnel in the afternoon to confirm conditions at the launch pad and assess its safety.

The base of the launch platform was made of iron and steel and coated with heat-resistant materials. The same structure was used for the launches of the seven previous H-2B rockets, but it had not burst into flames in the past.

The H-2B rocket was set to blast off with the unmanned transport vehicle Kounotori 8 (HTV), Japan's resupply mission to the space station. Its 5-ton cargo included food, beverages and clothing for astronauts as well as spare batteries for the ISS.

The suspended launch is expected to have a limited impact on ISS operations.

According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the ISS has a stockpile of food and water, and the batteries to be replaced will last until next year.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries plans to move the rocket back to the assembly hangar to investigate the cause of fire.

Atsutoshi Tamura, a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries official in charge of the launch operation, said it would take time to figure out the cause of the fire so the rocket can be launched at a later date.

“It will be difficult to identify the cause within one or two days and proceed with the launch,” he told reporters.

If the process takes several months, Tamura said it will become necessary to revise the schedule of the supply mission to the space station.

The rocket was also carrying experimental equipment for optical communications developed by Sony Computer Science Laboratories Inc., an ultra-small satellite that was to be launched from the ISS and cell-culture devices for experiments at the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module on the ISS.

(This article was written by Roku Goda and Sho Ito.)