Japanese rocket engine explodes during ground test
Steph Deschamps / July 16, 2023
The engine of a Japanese rocket exploded spectacularly on Friday during a ground test in northern Japan, in yet another setback for Jaxa, the country's space agency.
The engine of Epsilon S, an upgraded version of the smaller Epsilon-6 launcher whose mission failed shortly after liftoff last October, exploded "about 50 seconds after ignition", according to a Japanese Ministry of Science and Technology official interviewed by AFP.
Images from Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed a loud explosion in a metal shelter, followed by flames and thick grayish smoke billowing into the air at the test site in the northern prefecture of Akita.
Jaxa has not yet reported any injuries, the ministry official said.
Japan's space agency is currently experiencing an embarrassing series of failures, despite its reputation for highly reliable rockets.
After the failure of Epsilon-6 shortly after lift-off in October 2022 due to a trajectory problem, Jaxa has suffered two further setbacks this year with its new-generation H3 launcher.
This imposing model was unable to lift off the first time in February, and on a second attempt the following month the rocket was ordered to self-destruct shortly after lift-off due to a fault that made it impossible for the mission to succeed.
Jaxa is planning a first launch of Epsilon S next year, while the timetable for a new attempt at H3 has not yet been set.