Spaceflight Insider

Long March 3B rocket booster crashes to Earth near Chinese town

Long March 3B launches with APStar-6C communications satellite on May 3.

A Long March 3B launches with the APStar-6C communications satellite on May 3, 2018. Photo Credit: Zhang Zhengyi/Xinhua

One of the Long March 3B rocket’s four liquid boosters crashed to Earth near houses in Heba Town in southwest China’s Guizhou Province after successfully sending the ApStar-6C communications satellite into space.

The booster that hit the ground originated from a Long March 3B/E rocket launched last week, on May 3, 2018, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan Province. The wreckage is part of the “E” variant of the launch vehicle, which features elongated boosters—almost three feet taller than those in standard version—each fitted with a YF-25 engine.

Powering the vehicle for the initial phase of flight, the boosters were likely detached as planned some 2 minutes, 20 seconds after liftoff. They left the rocket being accelerated by its first stage alone, which utilizes a cluster of four YF-21C engines.

Some local residents recorded the wreckage one day after the liftoff as reported footage showing the burned-out booster on the ground.

Rocket parts falling near populated areas are common in China as the country has three out of its four launch sites situated at least hundreds of miles away from the coast. Therefore, residents in possible drop zones of rocket stages have to be evacuated for every flight. Generally, China performs around 20 orbital launches annually. However, this year could be record-breaking as about 35 mission are in the launch manifest.

Beijing recently revealed a plan to develop launch vehicles with re-usable stages and boosters, which could greatly decrease the risk posed by expendable rocket parts to populated areas in mainland China.

Video courtesy of CGTN



Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

Reader Comments

While I applaud the Chinese for their active space program, I find it disgusting how officialdom has little/no regard for those living beneath the flight paths of expendable rockets. It’s a similar situation near Baikonaur, Kazakhstan

James Lunar Miner

Fully reusable launchers have about 50% of the payload of a similar but non-reusable launcher.

Fully reusable launchers can thus double the direct damage done to the fragile Ozone Layer when compared to putting the same amount of mass in LEO that is launched by similar but non-reusable launchers.

Launchers that burn fossil fuels also put unwanted global warming CO2 into the atmosphere.


‘Payload Performance Analysis for a Reusable Two-Stage-to-Orbit Vehicle’
By Paul V. Tartabini, James R. Beaty, Roger A. Lepsch, and Michael G. Gilbert May 1, 2015

‘Limits on the Space Launch Market Related to Stratospheric Ozone Depletion,’
By Martin Ross, Darin Toohey, Manfred Peinemann, and Patrick Ross (2009)
Astropolitics, 7:1, 50-82, DOI: 10.1080/14777620902768867

Electromagnetic assisted launch systems might be helpful in reducing some of the negative environmental effects of both reusable and non-reusable launchers.

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