Videos circulating on social media depict a concerning incident involving the uncontrolled descent of rocket boosters from a Chinese Long March 3B rocket. The footage, first noticed by SpaceNews journalist Andrew Jones on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, shows the massive objects tumbling towards a forested and inhabited area, eventually erupting in significant explosions.
The incident is not isolated, as it reflects a recurring pattern in China’s space program where discarded rocket parts negligently fall back to Earth over inhabited regions instead of designated ocean areas. This behavior has previously attracted criticism from international space programs, including NASA.
The specific Long March 3B rocket in question launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 26, delivering two satellites into medium Earth orbit. However, the side boosters failed to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a controlled manner, landing in the Guangxi region of Sichuan province, endangering populated areas.
One video captures the aftermath of a booster exploding near a building, igniting surrounding brush. The presence of “reddish-brown gas or smoke” suggests leftover fuel mixing with air, posing additional risks. The incident serves as a reminder of a 2019 occurrence when a Long March 3B booster crashed into a home, causing a rural building to erupt in flames.
China’s space contractor, responsible for the satellite development, has attempted to address the issue by implementing grid fins and parachutes to guide boosters toward designated areas during re-entry. Despite these efforts, the recent incident highlights the ongoing challenges and the need for further improvements in ensuring the safe disposal of rocket components.
The videos underscore the urgency for China to enhance its space program practices to prevent potential harm to both property and human lives in the areas where these boosters uncontrollably descend.