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Long March 5 failure occurred at satellite separation

This story notes that the failure of the Long March 5 launch occurred 30 minutes after launch, when the second stage and the satellite were due to separate.

The link also includes footage of the launch through first stage separation and ignition of second stage engines.

It appears therefore that the failure was not in the Long March 5 rocket itself. When satellite separation occurs the second stage has completed its work, so the rocket apparently did its job getting the satellite into orbit. What happened next however remains unknown.

Based on this information it would appear that this failure might not delay later launches of the Long March 5 that much.

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  • Cotour

    Related because both have “separation”:

    I bet no one here was aware of this SR-71 feature, it was news to me.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “I bet no one here was aware of this SR-71 feature, it was news to me.”

    Thank you for the video, I had not seen it before; however, you lost that bet. For those who study the SR-71 (and its various siblings, such as the A-12), the accident is well known.

  • wayne

    Yes, thanks for that vid. New to me as well.
    –Aircraft aren’t really my thing. But…pivoting tangentially; I have always wondered what accident-footage the opening of “6 Million Dollar Man,” was based. (a great Concept, but dumb. Amazing, but dumb. I watched them all.)

    “The crash footage & dialogue spoken by actor Lee Majors during the opening credits [6 Million Dollar Man] is based upon communication prior to the M2-F2 crash that occurred on May 10, 1967:
    (“Flight com, I can’t hold her! She’s breaking up! She’s break—”).
    Test pilot Bruce Peterson’s lifting body aircraft hit the ground at approximately 250 mph (402 km/h) and tumbled six times.”

  • Cotour

    Q: But what was the purpose of the second piggy back craft? Drone? Cruise missile? Just proving it could be done?

    I have not had time to look further into it, but I will.

  • wayne

    Aircraft are not my thing and I’ve seen far more rocket films/video, than these, but I do know extensive testing of lifting-body designs went on in that time period. It wasn’t a weapon-system, it was one of many test platforms. (A “regular” airplane gets lift from the wings, with these lifting-bodies, the whole fuselage itself provides lift.)
    -There’s all sorts of video of these type of tests.
    (The Space shuttle is an example of a lifting-body, although I don’t know which particular type it is.)
    Getting way out of my bailiwick, I’d defer to others.

  • wayne

    I’m just an amateur geek, but you have sparked my interest in lifting-bodies! (You could call them the early genesis of reusability, at least on the return trip.

    This looks fairly good: (haven’t watched it yet but I enjoy anything from NASA in that time period.)

    “Today, Tomorrow and Titan III”

    “Made in 1966, this rarely seen documentary “Today, Tomorrow and Titan III” shows the U.S. Air Force and NASA’s activities and research, and features test pilot Milton Orville Thompson’s pioneering flights in the lifting bodies and Bill Dana’s flights in the X-15 rocket plane. The Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) space station concept, put forward as part of an initiative to militarize space under the auspices of the USAF, is touched upon. Research efforts with lifting bodies (which might be used to resupply the MOL) including the M2-F1 and high speed aircraft including the X-15 rocket plane are shown at Edwards Air Force Base and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. The film discusses the long-range plan to launch a lifting body into space aboard a Titan III booster so that eventually it could service the MOL. After the MOL program was shelved, the concept eventually ended up being adapted into the Space Shuttle program.”

    (I might add– I get the impression we keep re-inventing the wheel, over and over again. This “launching a lifting-body on a rocket” sounds mighty familiar. I’m convinced we keep paying for all this research, multiple times.)

  • Edward

    Cotour asked: “But what was the purpose of the second piggy back craft?

    The piggyback aircraft was intended as a reconnaissance drone, although in the case of the video, it was a test of the drone.

    In the article about the Long March launch in the twitter note that is featured, there is a suggestion that some anomaly may have happened with the first stage at the T +347 second mark. The launch video embedded in the article does not show that moment.

  • Dick Eagleson


    The aircraft is a D-21 reconnaissance drone. Here’s a picture of one, mothballed and mounted on a trolley, at Davis-Monthan AFB – aka “The Boneyard.” It’s well-known to anyone who has studied the history of the SR-71 and its sibling and associated aircraft types. It is not a lifting body.


    The Shuttle wasn’t a lifting body either. Nor is the X-37A for that matter. Dream Chaser is a lifting body. It has short wings, but gets more of its total lift from its body shape than from the wings. The wings are, I think, for stability and control authority more than for lift.


    The linked article does not say the Long March 5 mission failure occurred at payload separation. The article doesn’t say when the failure occurred, but notes that the live broadcast was stopped well before the scheduled time of payload separation. The story additionally contains a tweet with speculation about a white plume of something seen trailing from the rocket.

    At the moment, China has apparently said nothing about the timing or possible cause of the failure. It hasn’t even, so far as I can tell, acknowledged the loss of the payload.

    If payload separation had been the actual point at which failure occurred, the payload – even if exploded or otherwise dead – would still be in orbit, even if only as a cloud of debris. I have seen no independent confirmation anywhere that the Long March 5’s payload actually made it to orbit.

    Assuming it did not, that strongly implies the problem – whatever it was – occurred during core stage or second stage burns or during the process of stage separation. The strap-on boosters seem to have worked correctly in the early phases of flight.

    A problem with either the core stage or the second stage of Long March 5 would, unfortunately for the Chinese, definitely put both their lunar and space station plans on hold until an investigation is complete and corrective measures taken.

  • Dick Eagleson: Your analysis is cogent, but I am puzzled. In viewing the video at the link, it appears that the first stage and all its strap-on boosters performed as planned. Stage separation occurs cleanly, and then the second stage ignites. Though the video ends there, they apparently continued broadcasting, which further suggests that the second stage operated properly.

    I will admit that we are presently grasping at straws. We don’t know what happened, and are basing our speculations on tiny scraps of information, many of which might be completely irrelevant.

  • wayne

    good stuff, I stand enlightened.

  • Cotour

    Want the correct answer about high performance flying machines? Ask a real rocket scientist.

    What immediately struck me when I watched the SR-71 with the drone atop it was: They are going to attempt to separate two vehicles while going Mach 3 + while still within the atmosphere? That seemed like a very risky move to me. But you do not know until you try.

    Which then drives my mind to wondering / focusing on the actual release mechanisms and systems that were designed to reliably accomplish the feat. These mechanisms which are used on rockets and planes need to always perform as per design, every time. A zero failure rate is the only acceptable result.

  • Captain Emeritus

    The most unfortunate aspect of the Long March failure, is that it did not crash into the blockhouse on launch and kill the majority of their communist scientists and engineers.
    Now, let’s all run down to Walmart and fill up a basket of inferior, cheap junk made by slave labor from the People’s Republic of China. (A one party, Communist/Socialist dictatorship)
    Enjoy your $4 shirts comrades, when you support this brutal, murderous regime, you’re certainly going to get what you deserve.

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