The engine of a Japanese space rocket explodes during a test

The motor of a Japanese space rocket blew up during a test on Friday, a government official said, in the latest blow to Japan’s aerospace industry.

The Epsilon S rocket, an improved version of the rocket that failed to launch in October, exploded “just 50 seconds after ignition,” Naoya Takegami of the science and technology ministry told AFP.

The test site, in the northern prefecture of Akita, was engulfed in flames that caused a huge plume of smoke, according to footage on NHK national television.

“So far we have not received any reports of injuries” from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, which is investigating the incident, Takegami said.

Although the Japanese aerospace program is one of the most important in the world, it has accumulated significant setbacks in recent months.

The second attempt to launch its next-generation H3 rocket failed in March, following on from the failed liftoff of the Epsilon in October.

That was Japan’s first failed launch in nearly two decades and the only one for an Epsilon rocket, a model that has flown five successful missions since launching in 2013.

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