A spent booster from a Chinese rocket launch fell from the rocket and exploded near a small town in the Guangxi province of Southwest China on Friday.
The Long March 3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan Province just after 7 am local time, carrying a payload of two communications satellites. Because the payload was so heavy, the rocket employed four strap-on boosters to provide it with the extra thrust it needed to reach orbit. The rocket stage that fell near the Chinese village some 700 miles away from the launch site was one of these supplemental boosters.
Despite producing a visible fireball when landing, a good portion of the rocket stage actually remained intact upon landing. Soon, local residents were posting pictures and videos of them standing alongside the flaming wreckage. There have been no confirmed reports of injuries or property damage as a result of the incident.
Unlike in the United States, where launches either see discarded booster stages dropped into the ocean or, in the case of SpaceX, landing safely for reuse, China’s space program has long-planned trajectories that see rocket stages landing in inhabited regions of the nation. The government does, however, claim to rigorously plan where these stages will fall and provide ample notice to residents in order to limit the potential for injury or property damage. Nonetheless, events like this have occurred with increasing frequency as China’s space program has ramped up in recent years, which is likely why residents were standing by with cameras and phones, ready to film the booster as it fell.
While this incident doesn’t seem to have caused any injuries, a similar launch of a Long March 3B rocket from the same launch complex veered off course in 1996 and crashed into a nearby town. The incident destroyed dozens of homes, killed 6 people and injured nearly sixty others.
“There are notices released for the drop zones, depending on what kind of launch and where it’s going,” journalist Andrew Jones, who covers China’s spaceflight program, said to the Verge. “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.”
Watch footage of the rocket falling below:
— ChinaSpaceflight (@cnspaceflight) January 12, 2018
Image courtesy of the Associated Press