A Chinese rocket that was not supposed to take off took off anyway: it went wrong

A Chinese rocket that was not supposed to take off took off anyway: it went wrong
A Chinese rocket that was not supposed to take off took off anyway: it went wrong

A static rocket firing test went wrong in China. The launcher had to remain firmly anchored to the ground, but it eventually took off. The machine ended up falling heavily, causing a large explosion.

Clearly, recent Chinese space news has encountered some unexpected jolts. During the weekend of June 23 and 24, 2024, we witnessed the fall of a Chinese rocket in an inhabited area, while releasing toxic smoke. A week later, it is now a rocket test that has gone wrong.

The incident took place on June 30 not far from the town of Gongyi, a town in Henan, a Chinese province located in the center-east of the country. It is not known at this stage whether there were any injuries or casualties in the test area. The videos circulating suggest that the launcher in the experimental phase fell back into the wilderness, far from homes.

The recorded sequences show a takeoff of the first stage of the Tianlong 3 rocket. The machine, built by the Chinese company Space Pioneer, rises a few hundred meters, beyond the immense cloud of smoke that its thrust generates. Then, the propulsion seems to run out and the rocket loses stability.

The structure begins to lean to the side before falling towards the ground like a stone. We also see the structure partially catch fire. No self-destruct is triggered to destroy the rocket (assuming this safety exists, the instruction has failed if it was attempted); it ends its course in a gigantic explosion.

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A static rocket shot that is no more static

The first indications surrounding this shot point to a static firing of the launcher which went wrong. This is a classic procedure in the aerospace industry. The idea is to load the launcher’s tanks, ignite its engines and check their performance as well as the behavior of the rocket, without leaving the ground.

The launcher is therefore well anchored to the ground to prevent it from leaving. A company like SpaceX very regularly carries out statistical firings before carrying out its missions. This is all the more useful for a company that reuses its rockets from one firing to the next. This makes it possible to identify possible problems and resolve them before the big day.

Apparently, the Tianlong 3 rocket broke away from its test bench and the firing static became a fire dynamicIt took off for a reason that is still undetermined, but which inevitably raises questions about the quality of the rules and procedures governing this type of activity, especially in populated areas.

According to a statement shared in Chinese on social media, and translated using DeepL, there was a ” structural failure of the connection between the rocket body and the test stand », which caused it to take off. No casualties were reported: the impact zone of the launcher when it fell was located 1.5 km southwest of the test bench, in the mountains. The test site itself is described as “ distant » de Gongyi.

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An inaugural flight in September

Tianlong-3 is a rocket that has never officially flown. Currently under development, it is compared by Space Pioneer to SpaceX’s Falcon 9. In terms of capacity, it should be able to carry 17 tons of payload into low Earth orbit (less than 2,000 km altitude) and 14 tons into sun-synchronous orbit.

In principle, the maiden flight of Tianlong-3 is expected for September 2024. It remains to be seen to what extent the June 30 miss will impact Space Pioneer’s schedule. The press release suggests in any case the organization of new launchers and new tests. It probably won’t be too much.


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