A Chinese Long March 3B rocket booster may have fallen from the sky and exploded near a town in southwest China today (Jan. 12) following a successful satellite launch, GBTimes reports.
The article features video and photos shared on social media by people who apparently saw the strap-on booster, one of four that helped launch the Long March 3B, fall from the sky and explode, as well as images of the burning booster on the ground. There are no reports of injuries due to the fall at this time, as the booster does not appear to have hit any buildings or people, according to the article.
The Long March 3B lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest Sichuan Province at 7:18 p.m. local time (1118 GMT; 6:18 a.m. EST), successfully carrying two Beidou-3 GNSS satellites into orbit, according to a statement from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (which uses the acronym CASC), which oversaw the launch. That statement does not mention the fallen booster.
In the GBTimes article, author Andrew Jones wrote, "Minutes after launch as the rocket flew downrange, four strap-on boosters separated from the core, with one dropping near the town of Xiangdu in Tiandeng Country, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, around 700 kilometers [435 miles] from the launch site."
"With Tiandeng County being within the designated drop zones for debris for the launch, some locals were evidently ready to capture footage in the case that discarded rocket boosters fell from the sky," Jones wrote.
The Xichang Satellite Launch Center is near China's southern border with Myanmar, and more than 500 miles (800 km) from the ocean.
In addition to today's launch, China has reported two other successful rocket launches in 2018. Most recently, a Long March 2D rocket successfully launched two new Earth-observing satellites into orbit for Beijing Space View Technology in China on Tuesday (Jan. 10). The Long March 2D lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China's Shanxi Province.
China is anticipating that its uncrewed Tiangong-1 space laboratory will fall to Earth sometime in mid-March. It's possible that pieces of debris from that event will reach the ground intact. The Chinese space agency lost control of the orbiting spacecraft in early 2016.