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Chinese Rocket Launches 2 Satellites (and Drops Debris on Settlement)

China's space agency launched two new navigation satellites into orbit Saturday (Nov. 23), a successful mission that also appeared to send booster segments crashing into a settlement back on Earth. 

A Long March 3B rocket launched two Beidou navigation satellites for China's constellation from the Xichang Satellite Launching Center in the country's Sichuan Province at 8:55 a.m. Beijing Time Saturday (1255 GMT or 7:55 p.m. EST on Nov. 22). The rocket was equipped with a Yuanzheng-1 (Exploration-1) upper stage to help deliver the satellites to their final orbit. 

While the Long March 3B rocket successfully delivered its satellite payload to orbit, boosters from the three-stage rocket appear to have crashed into a settlement downrange from the Xichang launch site, according to video and pictures shared on China's Wiebo social media service and reposted on Twitter. The images show show buildings on fire and damaged, apparently by debris from the Long March 3B, which can be strewn across the area.

Video: Watch China's Launch March 3B Rocket Launch

While it may seem surprising, the scene is can be a familiar one for Chinese residents living downrange of the Xichang launch site. 

China's first three launch sites were built deep inland, meaning that their boosters drop segments and stages over land, rather than out to sea, said Andrew Jones, a space journalist who specializes in China's space program and shared the Weibo images on Twitter. (Jones is also a contributing writer to Space.com). 

"In particular, launches from Xichang, situated in Sichuan province in the southwest, seem to threaten populated areas downrange," Jones told Space.com in an email. "The launch profile of Long March 3B rockets, especially those with a payload of a pair of Beidou navigation satellites, has resulted in near misses and impacts on settlements."

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket launches two new Beidou navigation satellites into orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 23, 2019. (Image credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)

China has been ramping up its space launches in recent years, so impacts near or in towns are occurring more often, he added. The two Beidou satellites launched Saturday are the 50th and 51st of their kind and part of the Beidou-3 system, according to China's state-run Xinhua news service. They serve as a global positioning satellite network for China, which aims to complete the current Beidou constellation by mid-2020, Jones said.

"The residents within the calculated drop zones for spent stages and boosters are warned and these areas are, apparently, evacuated — the fact that we often see amateur footage of boosters falling from the sky supports the notion that they are warned and expecting to see a falling spent rocket stage," he added.

According to Jones, the warnings sent to residents in a rocket drop zone include key safety instructions. 

"The notice instructs people to go to a safe zone ahead of launch, and not to approach wreckage if they find it, due to the harmful effects of the residual propellant," he said.

Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.  

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  • djbillyd
    So, this has happened before, and they still launch missiles over the populace. Hmm, lot of regard for people huh? NOT!
    Reply
  • MHF
    Admin said:
    China's space agency launched two new navigation satellites into orbit Saturday (Nov. 23) in a successful mission that also appeared to send booster segments crashing into a settlement back on Earth.

    Chinese Rocket Launches 2 Satellites (and Drops Debris on Settlement) : Read moreIt sounds unsafe to have people living below a launch range, and slightly third world. But I have worked on oil platforms off Vandenburg AFB near Santa Barbara, CA. The Air Force announces a pending launch, and the oil companies send non-essential workers back to shore. The remaining workers go to a "safe place" built deep into the platform should anything land prematurely. This has never happened, but a solid booster exploded on the launch pad and the fume waived over the platform causing some respiratory threats.
    Reply
  • Reynod
    Well at least they didn't fire a Thor missile which malfunctioned 3 metres in the air and jettisoned a thermonuclear warhead another 30 metres from the pad which broke open and dumped radioactive material all over the launch site prompting a massive cleanup. Bluegill Prime. The list of abortive launches of the Thor vehicle was significant ... it was a dog of a thing.
    Reply