Chinese rocket booster falls from space, crashes near house, after satellite launch: report

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket during launch.
A Chinese Long March 3B rocket during launch. (Image credit: CASC)

Rocket debris from China’s recent satellite launch fell to ground near inhabited areas, where bystanders caught the fiery touchdown on tape. 

The China National Space Administratio launched two satellites into orbit on Monday (Dec. 25) at 10:26 p.m. EST (0326 GMT Dec. 26 or 11:26 a.m. local time in China) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province. The Long March 3B rocket carried two satellites for China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System, which is roughly equivalent to the GPS system used in North America. 

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While the satellites were successfully delivered into medium Earth orbit (MEO), side boosters of the Long March 3B multistage launch vehicle fell back to Earth and landed in South China’s Guangxi region, SpaceNews.com reported

Related: China launches BeiDou navigation satellite to orbit (video)

Bystander footage shared on X (formally Twitter) by space journalist Andrew Jones, originally from Weibo, apparently shows one of the boosters falling within a forested area. The video shows an explosion. Reports also emerged of wreckage from the other booster that were said to have landed near a home.

"The presence of reddish-brown gas or smoke indicative of nitrogen tetroxide is visible in both, while a yellowish gas, possibly the results of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) fuel mixing with air, can be seen next to the building," according to SpaceNews.com.

"The first stage and four side boosters of the Long March 3B use the hypergolic propellant combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Both the nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer and UDMH fuel present serious health risks."

This is not the first time rocket boosters associated with Beidou satellite launches have reported to fall near inhabited areas. In 2019, a booster — which provides the necessary thrust for lift-off and then separates from the main stage — fell back to Earth after launch and destroyed a home, according to reports. 

China has also been criticized many times for allowing the massive Long March 5 rocket to fall back to Earth naturally, causing space debris, following launches of the heavy-launch system.

China has inland launch sites, compared to coastal launch sites, which allow rocket debris to land in the ocean. Public notices and evacuations are issued ahead of such rocket launches to warn residents of potential risks from rocket debris. 

As the 57th and 58th Beidou satellites to be launched, the pair will act as backups and reduce the operational risks to the Beidou-3 system, which consists of satellites in MEO, geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) and inclined geosynchronous orbit (IGSO). This network of satellites ensures continuous and stable signal coverage for China’s global navigation systems. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13. 

  • Unclear Engineer
    I'll bet Musk envies the Chinese ability to launch what they want when they want wherever they want, even if the boosters are expected to land in inhabited areas. The FAA is currently facing a lawsuit by multiple environmental groups who are upset that Star Ship blew up in space over the Atlantic, among other things.

    The crazy thing about "environmentalist" organizations is that they tend to forget that intrusion into the lands they want to protect (and enter themselves) is often more of a lasting ecological problem than some industrial catastrophe. For instance, the natural ecosystem really rebounded around Chernobyl after the reactor exploded and (almost) everybody was evacuated to keep them away from the resulting radioactivity in the ground.
    Reply
  • Questioner
    Unclear Engineer said:
    I'll bet Musk envies the Chinese ability to launch what they want when they want wherever they want, even if the boosters are expected to land in inhabited areas. The FAA is currently facing a lawsuit by multiple environmental groups who are upset that Star Ship blew up in space over the Atlantic, among other things.

    The crazy thing about "environmentalist" organizations is that they tend to forget that intrusion into the lands they want to protect (and enter themselves) is often more of a lasting ecological problem than some industrial catastrophe. For instance, the natural ecosystem really rebounded around Chernobyl after the reactor exploded and (almost) everybody was evacuated to keep them away from the resulting radioactivity in the ground.
    Like Ronnie Reagan told us we need to chop down all those 'killer trees'. Who but a woosie needs oxygen anyway.

    Dumping mercury from gold mining in rivers is 'good' for the environment.

    Those Japanese fishermen in Minimata were faking neurological disease from dumped mercury.

    Save the environment. Nuke environmentalists to 'save' the planet for the sake of brain dead reckless exploitationism.



    BTW anyone want to buy a 'fixer upper' near Chernobyl?
    Real cheap!
    (Geiger counters not permitted.)
    Reply
  • Unclear Engineer
    Just sayin", as a person previously tasked with protecting the environment and providing for sociological needs, it is important to be realistic about the differences between an ecological preserve and a park. What most environmentalists are usually fighting for is a local park where they can "get away from it all". But, they tend to take it "all" with them - to the detriment of the rest of the ecosystem there. Trying to set up a real preserve, where people don't get to just go play, is hard to do because there aren't many people who come out to support such things.
    Reply
  • Questioner
    "..."environmentalist" organizations is ... is often
    more of a lasting ecological problem than some
    industrial catastrophe."

    Really?

    Name any environmental action that is worse, more irreversible/lasting than either Chernobyl or Fukushima.

    Honestly your comment is imo convoluted, twisted, hyberbolic nonsense.

    I don't sanctify 'environmentalists'
    but,
    environmentalists got lead out of gasoline that reduced all of our lead levels.

    This may be an irrational topic for you.

    It's like when rapists blame the victim.

    The bible says rape victims should be stoned to death because they are no longer virgins.

    Pardon me if i see that as vitriolic barbaric psychosis.
    Human's fundamental beliefs are largely irrational.
    Reply
  • Unclear Engineer
    Questioner, you seem to be missing the point, entirely.

    The wildlife around Chernobyl is doing much better now that the people are gone, even though they are living on ground that is too contaminated with radioactive materials for people to be allowed to live there (but a few do anyway). See https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/how-chernobyl-has-become-unexpected-haven-wildlife .

    That is not to say that Chernobyl exploding or other industrial contamination is a good thing. It only goes to show how much human occupation is a bad thing for wildlife.

    And that is my point about most of the not-in-my-backyard type lawsuits that are filed by people using "environmental" arguments. What those most of those are really about is the "development" (industrial, commercial, or even residential) of land that those people use as a park for their own enjoyment. They are the ones that are doing the rationalization. (And that is not to say that there aren't any environmental issue lawsuits that are justified by real contamination or wildlife habitat destruction issues.)

    From a big picture viewpoint, we do have to recognize that parks are important, too. But, we need to realistically deal with the difference between parks and natural areas worth preservation due to some unusual attributes.

    From all that I have seen about the Boca Chica area, it is really a "park" in the minds of those filing the lawsuits, and they are peeved that they are sometimes not allowed in it for safety reasons. And probably also peeved because the view from the park is spoiled for them by the visibility of the SpaceX facilities. But, I have to wonder what their positions would have been if they were never allowed on any of that property in the first place, because it was set aide to protect the wildlife from them. In that case, I would expect the locals to be arguing that the local wildlife is not really endangered species that live nowhere else and that the roads, etc. they need to access the area for recreation really would not threaten the local wildlife that much.

    And, I am contrasting that with how this article says things work in China, where dropping large boosters containing hazardous chemicals into areas occupied by humans is routine, causing on-the-ground explosions and chemical contamination. I don't approve of that, either.
    Reply