An article in the English Chinese press today about the upcoming third launch of China’s Long March 5 rocket revealed some new information about the failures of that rocket during its first two test flights.
On its maiden mission in November 2016, the rocket failed to reach the speed required for the early phase of the flight; still, extra booster fuel burned in the final stage lifted its satellite cargo into orbit and allowed China to declare the trip a success.
In the second flight a few months later, though, the main engine died minutes after take-off, and the rocket plunged into the sea.
I have tried to read every iota of information released about the first two launches of the Long March 5 in order to figure out what went wrong during its second launch. At no time however had I ever come across any report that described any launch problems during its first flight. The Chinese always touted that first flight as a complete success, with no problems.
We now learn that the first stage during that first launch was under-powered, a problem that was not dealt with before the second launch, resulting in the complete failure of that second launch.
This is the typical behavior one sees in a government-run top-down program. Rather than bluntly address problems to fix them, even if it means someone will be embarrassed, management acts to protect itself, hiding problems so as to avoid blame. The result is always more failures.
As long as China’s economy is booming and providing its government with lots of cash for its space program, such problems can be papered over and even overcome. The second however that economy begins to falter, the program will stumble, the hidden problems acting like an avalanche to overwhelm everything.
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