The planned launch of a Long March rocket this week might have ended in failure — a first for China's space agency since 2017.
According to amateur footage, the three-stage Long March 4C rocket took off from northern China's Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Thursday, May 23, at 6:45 a.m. local time. The mission was meant to place a remote-sensing satellite into orbit.
The state news agency Xinhua confirmed the launch failure 12 hours later.
China's Space Agency Suffers First Launch Failure Since 2017
The report revealed that the first and second stages of the rocket worked normally. The third stage, however, encountered some issues. Xinhua did not divulge further details about what went wrong, but debris from the rocket and the satellite fell on the ground.
China's launches are rarely publicly announced. Sometimes, indirect means such as NOTAMS (the notices filed with aviation authorities to warn about potential hazards) reveal when a launch is imminent.
Prior to Thursday's launch, the space agency's last failure happened in July 2017. The second attempt to launch the Long March 5 rocket, which was crucial to the country's space exploration objectives, lost thrust shortly after liftoff and crashed into the ocean. Investigators reported that the failure was caused by a turbopump glitch in the first stage of the rocket.
A similar event also occurred in August 2016. The Long March 4C rocket, which was meant to carry a Gaofen-10 satellite, experienced a failure. The launch was followed by radio silence from the people involved. The China Great Wall Industry Corp. only confirmed the loss of the satellite two weeks later.
The payload, meanwhile, is a new satellite designated Yaogan-33. According to Space News, Chinese state media often say that the Yaogan series satellites are used for "electromagnetic environment surveys and other related technology tests."
However, experts believe that the objects are actually optical and synthetic aperture radar satellites used for military reconnaissance purposes.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the main contractor for the Long March rockets, is yet to issue a comment. However, the company previously stated that it plans to have more than 30 launches this year.