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Watch: Chinese rocket crashes after unplanned launch

The incident did not cause in any casualties, the Space Pioneer company has said.

A Chinese Tianlong-3 rocket broke free from its moorings on Sunday during an engine test-fire, triggering an unplanned launch that resulted in the spacecraft crashing to the ground, its manufacturer has confirmed.

Beijing Tianbing Technology, also known as the Space Pioneer company, was carrying out a test of the first-stage rocket engines at the Comprehensive Test Center in Gongyi City, in China’s central Henan Province. Several videos of the incident were posted on social media by spectators.

The clips show the rocket blasting off, with fire rushing out of its nozzle. Seconds later the engines abruptly stop and the rocket starts to lose altitude while seemingly still on ablaze, leaving a black trail of smoke. It eventually crashes to the ground, triggering a massive explosion, rocking the nearby area and sending a huge plume of smoke and flames into the air.

According to Space Pioneer, the launch was not planned and the rocket became separated from its launch pad during the engine test due to a “structural failure” in the junction between the rocket hull and the test bench. After liftoff, an onboard computer automatically shut the engines down and the rocket fell into the mountains some 1.5 kilometers away from the test site, the company wrote in a post on the Chinese social network WeChat.

Both the company and the local authorities have confirmed that the incident resulted in no casualties. All personnel in the area were evacuated in advance, Space Pioneer stated.

According to the Chinese media, the Tianlong-3 is a liquid-fueled carrier rocket designed to put satellites into orbit. It will reportedly have the most powerful engines developed in China. It is expected to be able to carry a payload of 17 tons into low Earth orbit, or 14-tons into Sun-synchronous orbit. Chinese media have compared it to SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

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