TechChinese rocket debris crashes into village, raises safety concerns

Chinese rocket debris crashes into village, raises safety concerns

A fragment of the Long March 2C rocket fell on the village of Xianqiao in southern China.
A fragment of the Long March 2C rocket fell on the village of Xianqiao in southern China.
Images source: © Licensor | Chris Combs

8:34 AM EDT, June 24, 2024

The Chinese space program still has a lot to catch up on, especially in terms of rocket launch safety. Videos have appeared on Chinese social media showing debris from a Chinese rocket falling on a village in southwestern China.

This concerns the Long March 2C rocket, launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan. The rocket sent the Space Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM) satellite, developed by China and France, into orbit to study the most distant star explosions known as gamma-ray bursts.

The state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) deemed Saturday's launch a huge success. However, the dangerous fall of rocket debris on the village of Xianqiao in the southern province of Guizhou appears overlooked.

Chinese rocket crashes into village

Videos have appeared on Chinese social media showing the moment the rocket debris crashed into the Chinese village. A bright yellow streak is also visible in the sky.

According to social media reports, witnesses heard a loud explosion after the rocket fragment fell. An eyewitness told CNN that he saw the rocket falling with his own eyes, and after it fell, he heard the sound of an explosion and smelled a sharp odor.

As reported by CNN, the Chinese government sent a notice informing about plans to carry out a mission to recover the rocket debris. Officials warned residents to stay away from the object remnants to prevent the effects caused by the explosion and toxic gas. A strict ban on photographing the rocket and disseminating recordings on the internet was also introduced. However, the information was removed from the network.

Expert warns about the consequences of rocket crash

Markus Schiller, a rocket expert and senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told CNN that the videos most likely show the first stage of the Long March 2C rocket, which uses liquid propellant consisting of nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH).

"This combination always creates these orange smoke trails. It’s extremely toxic and carcinogenic," said Schiller. "Every living being that inhales that stuff will have a hard time in the near future."

Schiller noted that such incidents often occur in China due to the launch site's location.

"If you want to launch something to low Earth orbit, you usually launch it in the easternly direction to get some extra boost from the rotation of the Earth. But if you launch to the east, there are definitely always some villages in the pathway of the boosters of the first stage."

Multi-stage rockets are designed to discard successive stages along predictable trajectories after launch. Before each launch, China's civil aviation authority typically issues a NOTAM to pilots to warn them about "temporary dangerous areas" where rocket debris may fall.

The known issue with Chinese rockets

It is worth mentioning that China has already been criticized by the international space community for its handling of rocket engine debris. Similar incidents have occurred in the past. In December 2023, debris from a rocket fell in the southern province of Hunan, damaging two houses. Additionally, in 2002, fragments of a launched satellite fell on a village in the Shaanxi province, injuring a boy.

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