Philippines issues warning about Chinese rocket debris from launch

Flight path of Long March 3B
Click for full resolution image.

UPDATE: A tweet from China shows that the strap-on boosters of this rocket crashed near homes in China, though no one was hurt.

Original post:
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The Philippine government issued a statement yesterday warning the public about possible debris from the December 29th launch by China of its Long March 3B rocket.

The Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA) is recommending precautionary measures related to expected unburned debris from the Long March 3B rocket scheduled for launch today between 12:33 PM and 01:10 PM Philippine time from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, Sichuan Province, China. Upon confirmation of planned launch dates, PhilSA immediately issued an advisory to all relevant government agencies on the estimated drop zone area and proposed the issuance of appropriate warnings on air and marine access.

Based on the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), expected unburned debris, such as the rocket boosters and payload fairing, is projected to fall within a drop zone area located within the vicinity of Recto bank, approximately 137 kilometers from Ayungin Shoal and 200 kilometers from Quezon, Palawan. The unburned debris is designed to be discarded as the rocket enters outer space. While not projected to fall on land features or inhabited areas within the Philippine territory, falling debris poses danger and potential risk to ships, aircraft, fishing boats, and other vessels that will pass through the drop zone.

Though the drop zone avoided inhabited areas, it included regions where fisherman worked, and the flight path still flew over inhabited areas. The risk was extremely low, but it appears China also made no effort prior to launch to coordinate this situation with other governments, such as the Philippines. Its warning apparently arrived just before launch. Thus, there was risk that Filipino fisherman were in the drop zone at launch.

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches “experimental satellite”

China today successfully used its Long March 3B rocket to launch from an interior spaceport what its state-run press labeled an “experimental satellite.”

No word on where the rocket’s strap-on side boosters or first stage crashed within China.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

62 China
60 SpaceX
21 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
8 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 84 to 62 in the national rankings, but trails the entire world combined 94 to 84.

This launch cements for China the top spot in launches over SpaceX, since SpaceX only has one more launch planned in 2022, scheduled for just before midnight tonight.

Long March 3B launches communications satellite

China’s Long March 3B rocket today launched a communications satellite from one of its interior spaceports.

No word on where the first stage landed. The satellite replaced one that had failed in 2019 immediately after launch.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

51 SpaceX
48 China
19 Russia
9 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 72 to 48 in the national rankings, but trails the rest of the world combined 76 to 72.

A scheduled Antares launch of a Cygnus capsule from Wallops Island in Virginia was scrubbed today because a fire alarm when off in the capsule’s control center in Dulles, Virginia. It has been rescheduled for wee hours of tomorrow.

Watching the launch of the final large module to China’s Tiangong-3 space station

UPDATE: The Mengtian module has been deployed, and is now proceeding to a rendezvous and docking within the next day or so. The core stage is in orbit, and we can only wait over the next few days to find out where it will hit the Earth.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

49 SpaceX
47 China
18 Russia
8 Rocket Lab
7 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 69 to 47, though it now trails the rest of the world combined 74 to 69.

Original post:
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The launch of the final large module for China’s Tiangong-3 space station is scheduled to occur at 12:37 am (Pacific) tonight.

The module is called Mengtian, and once moved to its permanent port will complete the station in its t-shape. The rocket is the Long March 5B, the core stage of which will reach orbit, and then within a week crash uncontrolled somewhere on Earth.

I have embedded the English live stream below. A lot of Chinese propaganda (though not much different from a NASA broadcast). As I understand it, the launch window is instantaneous, so if there are any holds the launch will be scrubbed for the day.

» Read more

China launches another communications satellite for its space program

Using its Long March 3B rocket, China today launched the third satellite in the second generation of communication satellites used by its space program.

All told China now has seven satellites in this constellation, giving it a great deal of redundancy.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

29 SpaceX
22 China
9 Russia
4 Rocket Lab
4 ULA

American private enterprise still leads China 41 to 22 in the national rankings, and the entire world 41 to 37.

More Chinese space junk crashes in India

It appears that debris from an upper stage of a Chinese Long March 3B rocket, launched in September ’21, fell in India on May 12, 2022.

Local media reported that the objects crashed with “loud thuds that shook the ground” in Gujarat. There were no casualties or property damage, according to The Indian Express. The crashed objects were all discovered within a 15-kilometer radius, and among them was a black metal ball weighing around five kilograms, the newspaper said.

Though the sources objects have not been identified with certainty, they look like inner tanks from a rocket, and the only object that reentered the atmosphere on this date and also had an orbit that crossed this part of India was the Long March 3B.

This is second time in less than a month that debris from an abandoned Chinese upper stage has crashed in India. Both are thought to have come from Long March 3Bs. More important, both now prove that China has no protocols when it launches these rockets to de-orbit the upper stages in a controlled manner.

Stay tuned for more Chinese space junk heading your way. In the next seven months it will launch two Long March 5B rockets, the large core stage of which reaches orbit. In all of the previous 5B launches, that stage — big enough to hit the Earth — then quickly fell back in an uncontrolled and unpredictable manner. Fortunately, each time it crashed in the ocean, though the May 2020 deorbit ended up with some debris landing near villages in Africa.

Recent tests of the 5B’s core stage’s engine have suggested that China might have redesigned it to allow it to be restarted, which would allow them to control its deorbit. This fact however has not been confirmed.

Pieces of old Long March 3B rocket fall in India

It appears that pieces of an old Long March 3B rocket, launched on February 4, 2021, have fallen in India earlier this month.

On April 2, locals of Sindewahi tehsil were shocked to see six metallic spheres, metal balls and a metallic ring falling from the sky. Similar objects fell from the sky simultaneously in parts of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

This is not an example of China dumping the expendable first stage of a rocket on the ground during launch. These pieces came from the rocket’s upper stage, which reached orbit in ’21 and only now fell to Earth when its orbit decayed. Usually, most of the upper stage of a rocket burns up upon re-entry. However, certain pieces, such as the inner helium tanks that keep the larger fuel and oxidizer tanks pressurized, are sometimes strong enough to survive re-entry. It is likely that these tanks are the metallic spheres.

To avoid this, the rocket’s upper stage engine needs to be fired one last time to aim the re-entry over the ocean. SpaceX does this routinely. It appears at least in this one case China did not.

China completes two launches to make 2021 the most active year in rocketry ever

China yesterday completed two different launches from two different spaceports using two different rockets.

First it used its Long March 2D rocket to launch an Earth observation satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northern China.

Then, a few hours later, a Long March 3B rocket launched a classified military satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China.

Both launches dropped first stage boosters in the interior of China. No word on whether either used parachutes or grid fins to better control the stages so that they avoid habitable areas.

These two launches bring China’s total number of successful launches in 2021 to 52, a record for that country and the most any single country has achieved since Russia successfully launched 54 times in 1992 as its high launch rate slowly shut down following the fall of the Soviet Union.

The two launches also bring the total number of successful launches in 2021 to 134, the most in any single year in the entire history of space exploration. The last time global launches reached such numbers was in the 1970s and 1980s, numbers that were produced mostly by the launch of a lot of short term low orbit surveillance satellites by the Soviets, using technology that the U.S. had abandoned in the 1960s as inefficient. It took the collapse of the communist state for Russia to finally cease such launches itself.

Now the high number of launches is increasingly being fueled by commercial competition and profits, though China’s record this year is partly due to the same top down communist set-up similar to the Soviet Union. Even so, the number of competing private rocket companies worldwide is on the rise, and in most places (even China in a few cases), it is those companies that are providing the launch services to the government. Profit and private ownership are the watchwords, and so there is aggressive competition that is lowering the launch cost.

I will have more to say about this in my annual report, which I will publish on Monday, January 3rd.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

52 China
31 SpaceX
23 Russia
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China launches second communications satellite for its manned space station missions

The new colonial movement: China today launched the second Tianlian communications satellite for its manned space station missions, using its Long March 3B rocket.

No word on whether the rocket’s first stage used parachutes or grid fins to control its crash landing in the interior of China.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

48 China
28 SpaceX
22 Russia
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 ULA
5 Rocket Lab

China now leads the U.S. 48 to 45 in the national rankings. This launch was the 124th in 2021, making the sixth most active year in rocketry since Sputnik in 1957.

Arianespace and Chinese launches this weekend

Two launches occurred this weekend.

First Arianespace used its Ariane 5 rocket to place two communications satellites in orbit, one for the French military and the second for the commercial company SES. The total payload weight set a record for the rocket.

With this success the path is now clear for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope on the next Ariane 5 launch in December.

Next the Chinese used its Long March 3B rocket to launch a technology test satellite aimed at testing “space debris mitigation technologies.” No other information was released.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

37 China
23 SpaceX
17 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman
4 ULA
4 Arianespace (Europe)

China now leads the U.S. 37 to 36 in the national rankings.

China gets failed satellite to proper orbit

A Chinese satellite launched in late September that failed to reach its designated orbit after deployment has now reached that correct orbit.

During the launch of the Chinasat 9A mission in June 2017, the Reaction Control System (RCS) of the rocket stopped working during the coast phase, which resulted in a sub-planned payload release. The satellite, however, used its onboard propulsion to reach the desired orbit even with the rocket underperforming.

In September the limited information released by China suggested the launch had been a success but the satellite failed after deployment. Based on this new information, the launch in September only became a success now, as the failure was in the rocket’s upper stage.

China has not revealed the purpose of this satellite, though it is part of a program known to launch satellites for testing cutting edge technology.

China’s Long March 3B successfully launches satellite, which then fails

China’s Long March 3B rocket successfully launched a military satellite yesterday, though the satellite then had an undisclosed issue which caused it to fail.

Though the satellite failed to function immediately after launch, it appears the launch itself was successful, which based on my criteria means this launch is counted in China’s 2021 launch totals. The leaders in the 2021 launch race are thus:

34 China
23 SpaceX
15 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 35 to 34 in the national rankings.

Launches by China and Russia

Both Russia and China successfully completed launches yesterday. Russia launched a military reconnaissance satellite using its Soyuz-2 rocket. China in turn launched a communications satellite using its Long March 3B rocket.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

31 China
21 SpaceX
14 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 32 to 31 in the national rankings.

China completes two launches

China today successfully completed two launches, using from different spaceports its Long March 2C and Long March 3B rockets.

The 2C launched a two demo internet communications satellites designed to eventually be used in a large constellation similar to the constellations of SpaceX and OneWeb. The launch also included a third unidentified communications satellite.

The 3B placed in orbit what is believed to be a military reconnaissance satellite.

Both rockets dumped their first stages somewhere in the interior of China. No word on whether those stages carried parachutes or grid fins to better control their landing, or crashed near habitable regions.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

29 China
20 SpaceX
13 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 31 to 29 in the national rankings.

China launches military communications satellite

China’s Long March 3B rocket yesterday successfully launched a military communications satellite.

This was China’s eighth government launch since the beginning of July, in a span of only five weeks.

The launch was from an interior spaceport, so the rocket’s strap-on boosters and first stage core landed within China. No word if any landed near or on habitable areas, or if the Chinese were using parachutes or grid fins to control their landing.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

26 China
20 SpaceX
12 Russia
3 Northrop Grumman
3 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 30 to 26 in the national rankings.

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches new weather satellite

China early this morning successfully placed a weather satellite into orbit using its Long March 3B rocket.

No word on where the first stage crashed, though we know because the launch was from an interior launch site that it had to have crashed somewhere within China, hopefully not on any village anywhere.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

16 SpaceX
15 China
8 Russia
2 Rocket Lab
2 ULA

The U.S. still leads China 22 to 15 in the national rankings.

This list should change in only a few hours, as SpaceX has a Falcon 9 launch scheduled for 1:29 pm (Eastern), carrying a Dragon cargo freighter to ISS.

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches military satellite

China yesterday used its Long March 3B rocket to place a military communications satellite into orbit.

No word on whether this first stage or strap-on boosters lander near any residential communities.

The 2021 launch race:

4 SpaceX
3 China
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 6 to 3 in the national rankings. SpaceX’s had planned to do another Starlink launch this morning but has rescheduled it for the weekend.

China launches military surveillance satellite

China yesterday launched a military surveillance satellite using its Long March 3B rocket.

No word on whether the first stage or its strap-on boosters landed on any homes, or whether they had grid fins for better controlling their descent, as China has tested previously.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

32 China
22 SpaceX
13 Russia
5 ULA
5 Rocket Lab
5 Europe (Arianespace)

The U.S. still leads China in the national rankings, 35 to 32. That lead will hopefully widen in less than an hour with the first SpaceX launch of its second generation Dragon cargo freighter to ISS.

China today launched a new communications satellite

The new colonial movement: Using its Long March 3B rocket, China today launched another communications satellite for the Asian market.

No word on whether the rocket’s first stages landed near residential areas, as has happened in the past. Also no word on whether it used grid fins to control its crash somewhat, as China also did previously.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

30 China
19 SpaceX
12 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)
4 Rocket Lab

The U.S. and China are now tied at 30 in the national rankings. This tie won’t last long, as the U.S. has three launches scheduled for the next three days, a ULA Atlas 5 launch of a military reconnaissance satellite tomorrow, SpaceX’s second manned Dragon launch on November 14, and Rocket Lab’s next commercial launch on November 15.

China’s Long March 3B launches another remote sensing satellite

China today (October 11) successfully used its Long March 3B rocket to place another remote sensing satelle into orbit.

No word on whether the first stage and its strap-on boosters landed on any homes, or if they were equipped with fins to guide their re-entry.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

26 China
16 SpaceX
10 Russia
4 ULA
4 Europe (Arianespace)

With this launch China moves back into a tie with the U.S., 26-26, in the national rankings.

A Long March 3B launch failure today

An attempt by China to launch an Indonesian communications satellite using its Long March 3B rocket failed today around the time the third stage was to do its engine burn.

Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, said the Long March 3B launcher failed after lifting off from the Xichang space center in the country’s southwestern Sichuan province at 1146 GMT (7:46 a.m. EDT). The liquid-fueled launcher took off at 7:46 p.m. Beijing time with the Palapa-N1 communications satellite, also known as Nusantara Dua. The Palapa-N1 spacecraft was heading for a position in geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.

But the rocket malfunctioned minutes later some time during the planned burn of the Long March 3B’s third stage, Xinhua said. Wreckage from third stage and the Palapa-N1 spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere, according to the state-run media outlet.

Several videos shared on social media by people in Guam showed fiery debris moving across a moonlit night sky. The Offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense said in a statement that the debris was likely connected with the failed Chinese rocket launch. Authorities in Guam said there was “no direct threat” to the islands.

This is the second launch failure from China in less than a month. On March 16 the first launch attempt of China’s new Long March 7A rocket failed, for reasons that remain unclear.

How this might effect the inaugural launch later this month of China’s biggest rocket, the Long March 5B, remains unknown.

China tests parachutes to control 1st stage

During China’s Long March 3B launch on March 9, engineers tested the use of parachutes and “control devices” on the rocket’s first stage in order to better position the stage’s crash.

After the booster separated from the rocket, the parachutes opened in a sequence to control its attitude and direction, and data of the fall trajectory and landing site were sent to ground control in Xichang, southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

…It took just 25 minutes for staff to find the debris, compared to hours or up to a fortnight previously, [according to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT)].

The article from China’s state-run press at the link also bragged that they have been working on this new technology for a decade. That I think is a lie. The Long March 3B was developed in the 1990s and, until SpaceX successfully proved it possible to land a first stage in 2015, there was no hint they were doing anything to protect their citizens from crashing first stages.

Only in the past years have they performed any tests of such technology, including grid fins that appeared clearly stolen from SpaceX’s design. It is good that they are finally doing this, but their lack of interest in protecting their own citizens beforehand tells us quite a lot of both Chinese culture and the communist/socialist/fascist dictatorship that leads it.

China launches another GPS-type satellite

China today successfully launched another of its Beidou GPS-type satellites, using its Long March 3B rocket.

I found this data point from the link interesting:

Real-time, stand-alone Beidou horizontal positioning accuracy was classed as better than 6 meters (95 percent) and with a vertical accuracy better than 10 meters (95 percent). …[However, t]he system will be dual-use, based on a civilian service that will provide an accuracy of 10 meters in the user position, 0.2 m/s on the user velocity and 50 nanoseconds in time accuracy; and the military and authorized user’s service, providing higher accuracies.

New commercial GPS units will eventually add the Beidou constellation, and when combined with data from the U.S, Russian, European, and Indian systems, will likely get accuracies even higher.

The leaders in the the 2020 launch race:

5 China
4 SpaceX
2 Arianespace (Europe)
2 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 7 to 5 in the national rankings.

China launches two more Beidou GPS-type satellites

The new colonial movement: China today used its Long March 3B rocket to launch two more Beidou GPS-type satellites.

With this launch China has successfully matched its predicted number of launches for 2019, a number that it should exceed with several more launches scheduled before the end of the year.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

30 China
20 Russia
12 SpaceX
7 Europe (Arianespace)

China now leads the U.S. in the national rankings 30 to 25. These numbers should change later today, as SpaceX has a commercial launch scheduled.

Home destroyed by Long March 3B 1st stage

It appears from a number of twitter-type sources coming from China that the spent first stage of the Long March 3B rocket that successfully launched two GPS-type satellites this weekend crashed onto a house, destroying it.

Video footage emerged on Chinese social media shortly after launch showing the apparent destruction of a rural building. Flames are seen within the building along with fumes from residual propellant rising from the booster wreckage.

…The first stage and four side boosters of the Long March 3B use a toxic hypergolic propellant combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.

There have so far been no state media reports on the incident. The footage and social media comments suggest the owners returned home following standard evacuation ahead of launch.

According to other such reports, the home-owners will be compensated, but this is not confirmed.

Regardless, because of China’s effort to increase its launch rate, launches coming from its inland spaceports are either going to develop controlled landing for the expendable stages or will cease. The damage both to their own citizens as well as the bad press these crashes garner are aspects that the Chinese government will want to avoid, with the bad press likely its greater concern.

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