Rocket accidentally takes off and crashes during test in China

Rocket accidentally takes off and crashes during test in China


The first stage of the Tianlong-3 rocket fell back down. Smoke billowing from its engine shows the stage's ascent after its accidental flight.

The first stage of the Tianlong-3 rocket falling back down. Smoke billowing from its engine shows the stage's ascent after its accidental takeoff. | Photo Credit: YouTube

Beijing Tianbing Technology Co said on Sunday that the first stage of its under-development Tianlong-3 rocket separated from its launch pad during a test due to a structural failure and fell into a mountainous area in central China's Gongyi city.

Beijing Tianbing, also known as Space Pioneer, said in a statement on its official WeChat account that there were no reports of casualties after preliminary investigation.

Parts of the rocket stage disintegrated in a “safe area” but caused a localised fire, according to a separate statement issued by the Gongyi Emergency Management Bureau.

The bureau said the fire was extinguished and no one was injured.

The two-stage Tianlong-3 (the name means “sky dragon” in Mandarin) is a partially reusable rocket under development by Space Pioneer, one of a small group of private-sector rocket makers that have grown rapidly over the past five years.

It is not new for rocket debris to fall into China after launch, but it is extremely rare anywhere in the world for a part of a rocket under development to crash into a test site without a plan.

According to Space Pioneer, the first stage of the Tianlong-3 ignited normally during the hot test but later separated from the test bench due to a structural failure and fell into a mountainous region 1.5 km away.

Hot testing is where fuel is injected into the rocket motor being tested, and ignited under conditions similar to those during flight.

A rocket may have multiple stages, with the first or lowest stage igniting at launch and pushing the rocket upward.

When the fuel runs out, the first stage falls off, and the second stage ignites, keeping the rocket in propulsion. Some rockets also have a third stage. India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) has four stages.

Space Pioneer says the Tianlong-3's performance is comparable to SpaceX's Falcon 9, which is also a two-stage rocket.

In April 2023, Space Pioneer launches a kerosene-oxygen rocket, the Tianlong-2, becoming the first private Chinese firm to send a liquid-propellant rocket into space.

Chinese commercial space companies have moved rapidly into the sector since the state allowed private investment in the industry in 2014.

Several companies began building satellites, while others, including Space Pioneer, focused on developing reusable rockets, which could greatly reduce mission costs.

Testing sites of such companies can be found in coastal areas of China, located close to the sea for safety reasons.

But some test centers are also located in the country's interior, such as the Space Pioneer test center located in Gongyi, a city of 800,000 in the central province of Henan.


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