Chinese space company accidentally launches rocket in test gone wrong

10, 9, 8 ... hang on, did anyone check we bolted this thing down properly?

Private Chinese launch outfit Space Pioneer has launched a rocket by mistake.

The company yesterday posted news of a static fire test of the Tianlong-3 liquid carrier rocket, a craft it compares to SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The first stage of the vehicle lit up as planned, with nine engines all roaring and pumping out a combined 820 tons of thrust.

Video of the suggests the rocket was stacked vertically. Space Pioneer's statement says it was secured to a test bench - a common arrangement that sees extremely resilient restraints fitted so that when engines fire there’s plenty of hot gas to be seen and measured, and lots of vibration, but the rocket doesn’t go anywhere.

But Space Pioneer’s test bench experienced a structural failure that allowed the rocket to break free and become airborne.

The test bench may have been lousy, but the rocket’s flight computer was set up to detect unexpected flight and did its job by shutting down its engines.

Here’s what happened not long after shutdown.

Tianlong-3 rocket crash after unplanned launch

Tianlong-3 stage crashes after unplanned launch - Click to enlarge

You’re looking at a frame from a video posted to Chinese outlet “The Paper”, which reported the Tianlong-3 first stage came down near the city of Gongyi.

Space Pioneer’s post states that the first stage travelled 1.5kms and “fell into a deep mountain 1.5 kilometers southwest of the test bench” where it “disintegrated”. The launch outfit asserted that its test site is “far away from the urban area of Gongyi” and that it had alerted local authorities ahead of the test.

Whether those authorities prepared for a static test going horribly wrong, sending fuel-filled rocket stages close enough to urban areas that they could be filmed, is unknown.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt by this incident.

The Tianlong-3 is intended to become a hauler for broadband-beaming satellites, an application China is seeking as it strives to secure sovereign capacity. ®

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