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The Chinese space rocket crashed in a fiery explosion following an accidental launch

Beijing Tianbing Technology disclosed on Sunday that an incident occurred during a test of its Tianlong-3 rocket, currently in development, resulting in the detachment of its first stage from the launch pad due to structural failure. The detached stage landed in a hilly area near Gongyi, a city in central China, without causing any reported casualties, the company, also known as Space Pioneer, confirmed via a statement on its official WeChat account.

According to reports from the Gongyi Emergency Management Bureau, while parts of the rocket stage fell within a designated “safe area,” the incident sparked a localized fire. Prompt response from local authorities ensured the fire was swiftly extinguished, with no injuries reported.

The Tianlong-3, also referred to as “Sky Dragon 3,” is designed as a partially reusable two-stage rocket, marking a significant advancement in China’s private-sector space industry. Space Pioneer is among a handful of private firms that have rapidly expanded in recent years, focusing on innovative rocket technologies.

Instances of rocket debris falling in China post-launch are not unprecedented, but it is highly unusual for a rocket component under development to detach from its testing facility and crash. According to Space Pioneer’s account of the event, the first stage of the Tianlong-3 rocket initially ignited as expected during a hot test. However, structural issues led to its detachment from the test bench, causing it to land approximately one mile away in nearby hilly terrain.

Rocket stages operate sequentially during launch, with the first stage providing initial propulsion before detaching once its fuel is depleted. This allows subsequent stages to continue propelling the rocket into orbit. The Tianlong-3 aims to match the performance capabilities of SpaceX’s Falcon 9, a well-established two-stage rocket in the global space industry.

In April 2023, Space Pioneer achieved a milestone by successfully launching Tianlong-2, a liquid-propellant rocket powered by kerosene and oxygen. This accomplishment marked the first instance of a Chinese private company sending such a rocket into space, underscoring the rapid growth and technological advancement within China’s commercial space sector.

The proliferation of Chinese commercial space enterprises began in earnest in 2014, following state approval for private investment in the industry. While some companies have concentrated on satellite manufacturing, others, like Space Pioneer, have focused on developing reusable rocket technologies aimed at reducing mission costs significantly.

Test facilities for these companies are typically situated in coastal areas of China, chosen for safety considerations due to their proximity to the sea. However, Space Pioneer’s testing center in Gongyi, located deep in the central province of Henan, stands as a testament to the expanding geographical footprint of China’s burgeoning space industry.

With a population of approximately 800,000, Gongyi represents a strategic inland location for conducting rocket tests, reflecting the broader ambition and infrastructure development within China’s private space sector. Despite the setback caused by the recent incident, the incident underscores the ongoing technological advancements and challenges faced by emerging players in China’s increasingly competitive space industry landscape.

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