Chinese rocket accidentally launches before exploding

A Chinese space startup accidentally launched a rocket on Sunday, resulting in a massive explosion.

Beijing-based Space Pioneer was performing a ground-based test of its Tianlong-3 rocket in central China when it became detached from its launchpad and lifted off the ground.

After rising several hundred metres into the air, the rocket fell back down to Earth and exploded in an uninhabited hilly area roughly 50 seconds after lift off.

Space Pioneer said in a statement that the rocket became detached due to a structural failure with the ground connection, with no one harmed in the incident.

“After liftoff, the onboard computer automatically shut down and the rocket fell... (landing) 1.5 kilometres southwest of the launchpad,” the statement said.

“The rocket body disintegrated after falling into the mountain. The test site is far away from the urban area of ​​Gongyi. Before the test, we worked with the local government to improve safety measures and organise the evacuation of surrounding personnel in advance. After investigation, no casualties were found.”

Last year, Space Pioneer became the first private Chinese firm to send a liquid-propellant rocket into space, launching its Tianlong-2 kerosene-oxygen rocket to deliver a small satellite into orbit.

The company is designing its Tianlong-3 to be a reusable two-stage rocket, capable of delivering similar-sized payloads into space as SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

The Falcon 9 rocket is currently the most prolific active orbital launch system in the world, having already performed more than 60 launches in 2024.

The Chinese firm was aiming to make its first orbital launch attempt of the Tianlong-3 rocket in the coming months at its new launch facilities on Hainan island in the south of the country, however the latest setback will likely lead to delays.

Space Pioneer did not give any further details on how the accident might impact the rocket’s development, saying that it would complete the investigation “as soon as possible” in order to move forward with its production.