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New engine could make or break Japan's rocket program

Bid to catch up with next-generation rivals rests on critical testing phase

Japan's H-IIA rocket is scheduled to be replaced by the H3 in 2020. (Photo by Yasuyaki Sako)

TOKYO -- Japan's rocket program is about to enter a critical phase, with full-power firing tests of an all-important new engine set to begin amid intensifying global competition.

Researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are gearing up for the next round of tests of the new LE-9 engine -- the centerpiece of the next-generation H3 rocket. 

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