Explosion of Epsilon S engine at the JAXA test center

Japan’s new Epsilon-S rocket engine explodes in a test

On Friday 14th July 2023 the new Epsilon-S rocket engine blew up roughly 50 seconds after ignition at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) testing site

The second stage engine of the Epsilon S rocket exploded in a test at the Noshiro testing center in Akita Prefecture. The incident was reported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of Japan, Naoya Takegami.

The combustion test was scheduled for July 14, at 9 a.m. LT at the vacuum firing test building, and it was planned to last around two minutes. Takegami described that the rocket blew up roughly 50 seconds after ignition. The explosion resulted in spreading flames and fumes that uncovered the roof of the building and destroyed some walls.

An area of ​​600 meters around the test building was restricted for safety, and no injuries were reported. According to the local rescue teams, 11 fire trucks were needed to extinguish the flames, which were completely quenched at 11:01 a.m.

JAXA is quickly activating the investigations to discover the cause of the accident. This event could affect the launch of the first Epsilon S rocket planned for 2024.

Video showing the explosion of the second-stage engine of the Epsilon S during the combustion test. Credits: Onkla, Youtube

This latter event unfortunately represents yet another difficulty for JAXA in the development of a reliable and reusable launcher.


Previous launches

JAXA’s H3 medium-range rocket, successor to the H2A rocket, experienced the same fate during its first flight on March 7th, 2023. The engine of the second stage failed to ignite, forcing the operators to self-destruct the rocket for safety reasons at 5 minutes and 27 seconds after takeoff. Both the rocket and the payload, the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3 (ALOS-3), have been lost.

Launch of the H3 rocket by JAXA
On March 7th, 2023, a H3 rocket carrying a land observation satellite was launched from Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan. Credits: JAXA

In addition, the Epsilon-6 launcher self-destructed last October 2022. It lifted off from Uchinoura Space Center on Kyushu island, carrying eight satellites. The self-destruction command was given by the operators 8 minutes after liftoff. This has been a necessary action as the vehicle would not have been able to place the satellites into orbit. No injuries or property damage was reported, as the debris fell into the ocean near the Philippines.

Video showing the launch of Epsilon-6 last October 2022.

The road to space exploration is an arduous and tortuous path, which leads to many defeats during the design and production phase of launchers as well as satellites. It is necessary to always follow the path of progress in order to achieve the desired results.


Differences between Epsilon and Epsilon S

The Epsilon Launch Vehicle is a solid-fuel rocket manufactured by JAXA to launch scientific satellites. The Standard Configuration (three solid propellant stages) can place successfully more than 1400 kg of payload in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). By adding a Compact liquid Propulsion System, the rocket can carry up to 600 kg of payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit.

Epsilon series is to be replaced by a new version, named Epsilon S. The main features are the strap-on solid-rocket booster of the launcher H3, which can be added or subtracted depending on launch requirements, and the Post-Boost Stage (PBS) that will provide three-axis stabilization.

Comparison beatween enhanced (current) Epsilon Launch Vehicle and Epsilon S
Comparison Chart. Credits: JAXA

The Epsilon S launcher aims at enhancing Japanese competitiveness in the international market by demonstrating synergistic features with the H3 Launch Vehicle and achieving lower launch costs while maintaining high reliability.


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Beatrice Romeo

Beatrice Romeo

Master student in Aerospace Engineering.
Ocean activist and kitesurfing athlete.

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