Rocket Booster Falls and Explodes Near Chinese Town After Satellite Launch

The first stage of a 2C rocket has fallen and hit the ground near a populated village after it carried two satellites to low earth orbit.

China launched two technology demonstration satellites from a 2C rocket on Wednesday. The state-run press hailed the mission as a success but it was later reported that rocket’s first stage, after falling away from the booster’s fell on a town located in Niuchang town. 

The Xinhua press agency reported on the launch of the satellites dubbed XJSW A and XJSW B saying, “China successfully launched new-tech experiment twin satellites on the Long March-2C rocket from southwest China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center Wednesday morning. The twin satellites were launched at 11:30 a.m., [local time] and entered their intended orbit.” 

Exact purpose of satellites unknown

The exact details of the satellites are unknown, the press noted their mission will be to “link the inter-satellite network and conduct new technology tests on satellites Earth-observation.” Though their exact orbit has not been released. 

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Chinese media has earlier reported that three Yaogan 30 satellites were to be launched atop a Long March 2C booster on June 27 from Xichang. However, it seems authorities changed the payload, a new date for the satellite trio launch is yet to be announced. The Long March 2C booster used on Wednesday's flight was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). 

Its primary function is to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) or to Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The 42-meter tall launch vehicle can carry payloads of up to 1.4 metric tons. 

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A video has emerged of the rockets first stage landing on the ground on China’s social media site Sina Weibo. While there have been no reports of casualties from the impact, the Long March 2C’s fuel consists is a toxic combination of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine fuel and dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. 

Other Chinese rockets have had stages land close or on towns that are in the zone beneath launch sites. There have been two other incidents of rockets stages colliding with occupied areas in 2018 alone. 

China has four rocket launch sites, however, unlike the US three of them, Jiuquan, Taiyuan, and Xichang are all located inland with the remaining one, Wenchang located near the ocean. 

Locals warned of imminent rocket launches

People living in the areas around the launch areas are warned of the launches prior. Andrew Jones, a freelance journalist covering China’s spaceflight program told The Verge about the procedure for warning locals. 

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“There are notices released for the drop zones, depending on what kind of launch and where it’s going. For some places, they’ll evacuate a town or an area, and they try to calculate these drop zones quite carefully to avoid as many inhabited areas as possible.” 

China is working in a new class of rocket called the Long March, 5, 6, and 7, which use less toxic propellants. Two of these rockets the 5 and 7, take off from the Wenchang launch site on the island of Hainan in the South China Sea. Launching over the sea means spent stages can burn up and land safely in the water.

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