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Something exploded powerfully at the Chinese cosmodrome

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Image source: Planet Labs, Harry Stranger

Satellite images show the trace of a rocket engine test and an impressive debris field. The company most likely using this testbed and its parent state corporation have not shared any information about the incident.

The Celestial Empire is not famous for the openness of information, so all fans of fresh news have to look for workarounds to find out. Fortunately, many companies that provide access to data from Earth remote sensing satellites allow individuals to buy them. This is how space enthusiasts will learn at least some details about what is happening at Chinese cosmodromes. Based on satellite images, the user of the social network X (former Twitter, blocked in Russia) Harry Stranger concluded that an emergency situation occurred at the Jiuquan cosmodrome about a week ago.

He studied photos in the optical range on the Planet portal (aggregates images from various sources), as well as radar images provided by the Sentinel and Umbra services of the European Space Agency. Apparently, on November 21 or 22, rocket engine tests were conducted at the cosmodrome, which ended in failure. The debris field extends for a distance of up to a kilometer from the stand where the test took place.

It is difficult to see small details in the pictures, so the name of the exploded equipment remains a mystery. However, according to all external signs, it was most likely a solid-fuel accelerator for a rocket that is launched from a wheeled conveyor. Several Chinese companies are using military ballistic missiles converted for civilian use. It could have been one of them. The outlines of the equipment on the test stand look just like a multi-axle all-terrain truck of a mobile ground rocket complex.


In the late autumn of 2021, an explosion of a test rocket was already taking place at the same place.
Source: Airbus, CNES, Harry Stranger

Cosmonautics enthusiasts, who constantly monitor the Celestial cosmodromes using satellite images, claim that the Chinese Aerospace Scientific and Industrial Corporation (CASIC) uses this test bed. Among other things, it develops strategic and tactical missile weapons, so testing solid—fuel missiles is routine for this company. According to another version, this stand is mainly used by CASIC's subsidiary, Expace. It specializes in commercial launches of light payloads using Kuaizhou family conversion rockets. They are based on the Dongfeng-21 medium-range ballistic missile accelerator and related developments.

As usual, no comments from CASIC or Expace regarding the incident at the cosmodrome were published. Unsuccessful tests of the accelerator may affect future launches of Kuaizhou — two are planned by the end of the year.

Images of the accident site can be viewed with reference to the area on the SOAR Earth website. To do this, click on the link, accept or reject cookies and then reload the page. On the right side of the screen, under the description of the place and the pictures, there is a comment by the Strangerwhen you click on it, you can see marks showing the directions of the debris after the explosion.

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