Japan Rocket Launch Problems Cast Doubts on 2024 Epsilon Launch

Courtesy of the Noshiro City government
An explosion during a ground combustion experiment of the second-stage engine of Epsilon S rocket is seen in Noshiro, Akita Prefecture, on Friday.

JAXA has encountered a slew of serious problems with its rockets, including a failed launch of the nation’s new H3 rocket in March.

Experts have voiced concern that such mishaps — including Friday morning’s explosion — could have a major impact on Japan’s future space program.

“Solid fuel can explode upon burning if it contains cracks or fractures,” said Koichi Yonemoto, a professor of aerospace engineering at Tokyo University of Science. “However, such accidents are rare. It’s possible that the accident was down to problems with quality control.”

JAXA and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry are to launch a full-scale investigation into the cause of the latest incident. Depending on their findings, the planned first launch in fiscal 2024 of the Epsilon S rocket — expected to carry a Vietnamese earth-observation satellite — might be delayed.

Akira Sawaoka, president emeritus of Daido University and an expert on rocket combustion materials, said: “There might have been a problem in a rudimentary manufacturing process. This [latest] accident will affect future launches of Epsilon S.”

JAXA’s rocket launch projects have been plagued by trouble, including the failed launch of the Epsilon-6 rocket last October and the H3 rocket in March.

The cause of the H3 launch failure is still being investigated.