Chinese Rocket Part Falls On House Soon After Fiery Launch

Ramish Zafar
The Long March 3B takes to the skies in November 2022. Image: China Central Television (CCTV)/China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)

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China's Long March 3B rocket, which launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) in the Sichuan province earlier this month, saw some of its components crash land on a house. The Long March 3B launched the ChinaSat 19 on November 5th, for the Chinese government, and the rocket's fairing landed on the ground soon after. Footage shared on social media shows that one of the fairing halves landed on the roof of a house, with no injuries or loss of life reported.

Chinese Rocket Parts Make Their Way Back To Earth After Latest Launch

The Long March 3B is one of China's largest rockets and it is primarily used to launch satellites to higher orbits such as geosynchronous orbits. These orbits see the spacecraft cover one region of the Earth throughout the day and are preferred for communications spacecraft since they make ground antenna positioning much easier.

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The rocket uses solid boosters and four engines, and unlike those operated by SpaceX, it is incapable of landing back on Earth. Therefore, the first stage and the boosters make uncontrolled entries, and a lack of data sharing results in tense time periods after a launch as observation firms and others are unable to pinpoint where the equipment will land; having to satisfy themselves with a projected flight path instead.

Long March 3B's latest launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) saw it place the ChinaSat 19 in orbit. The satellite was launched after its predecessor failed post launch, and according to Chinese media, it will provide communications in the Pacific Ocean and North America.

During the satellite's journey from Earth to its orbit, it is protected by what is termed a fairing. This is a protective cover that safeguards the sensitive equipment from the harsh atmosphere during launch, and it is jettisoned, or separated after the rocket has flown a safe distance.

The Long March 3B's fairings separate in two halves, and one of these landed on a house the day after it launched the ChinaSat 19. Its path saw the rocket exit China's Eastern seaboard, and fly over Taiwan, but due to the distance from the XSLC to the sea, the fairing could not make a  sea based landing - which is generally safer. Rocket fairings also often feature miniature engines that are called reaction control thrusters (RCS). These use highly combustible propellants to generate force, which makes them suitable to be used on items such as fairings, due to the space and weight limitations. SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket's first and second stages also use them.

The Dragon uses them for orienting itself with the International Space Station (ISS), while the Falcon 9's first stage reorients itself for a landing and the second stage uses gas thrusters for orientation and other purposes.

Data also suggests that the overall landing sites are not random, and are in fact chosen by design. An analysis of roughly 40 launches shows that most of the fairings landed in the Hubei, Henan or Hunan provinces - all of which are close to the Chinese Eastern seaboard. Some have also landed in the Yellow Sea, while others have made their mark much further inland and as far as the Qinghai province. The Chinese government also issues notices before a launch to locals, advising them about potential hazards.

The XSLC's location also makes it difficult for the fairings to land in the sea, and launches from the Wenchang launch facility - located close to the sea - fare off much better. Private spaceports being built in China are also closer to the sea. Wenchang held a groundbreaking ceremony for its second launch pad in October end.

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