China's Long March rocket launch mishap fills nearby village with toxic fuel and fumes

After the launch of China's Long March 3B rocket, one of its boosters containing toxic fuel fell on a nearby village

The launch of China's Long March 3B rocket during the weekend didn't go as smoothly as planned after one of its components fell on a nearby village, causing the spread of toxic chemicals and fumes in the area. For spaceflight experts, this incident could have been avoided if China strictly followed launch guidelines.

On Saturday, China was able to launch its Long March 3B rocket carrying two Beidou navigation satellites as its payload. The event marked the country's latest step in its attempt to expand its space exploration efforts.

Tiangong-1 lifts off
The Long March II-F rocket loaded with China's unmanned space module Tiangong-1 lifts off from the launch pad in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province September 29, 2011. China successfully launched an experimental craft paving the way for its first space station on Thursday amid a blaze of national pride, bringing the growing Asian power closer to matching the United States and Russia with a long-term manned outpost in space. Reuters

Incident at Xichang Satellite Launch Center

Unfortunately, almost immediately after the launch of the rocket, an accident occurred after its first stage booster unexpectedly fell on a populated village near the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. According to the photos and videos shared through China's microblogging site Weibo, the debris from the rocket fell on a house.

Aside from completely destroying the house and its surroundings, toxic propellant leaked out from the booster and caused fires to break out. Andrew Jones, a journalist covering China's space program, shared a video taken at the site of the accident. According to Jones, the yellow smoke that can be seen in the video is very toxic.

Past mishaps during China's Rocket launches

Surprisingly, this isn't the first accident to occur near the launch center. Shortly after the launch of a rocket in 1996, it suddenly changed direction and crashed into the nearby village. Although local authorities reported that six people died because of the incident, western sources believe the death toll was actually much higher.

In April of this year, the country carried out a similar launch from its Xichang Satellite Launch Center. Although the rocket was able to successfully lift off from the ground, its boosters littered its surroundings with toxic fuel.

Call for Regulations on China's launch activities

For space experts, these kinds of accidents and mishaps can be avoided China strictly adhered to guidelines regarding launch facilities. As much as possible, these facilities should be in areas that are far away from human settlements. Following the incident in April, space commerce expert Greg Autry penned an article calling for the White House to look into China's spaceflight activities.

"The safety standards used in Chinese space launch would leave American regulators apoplectic," he wrote in an article for Space News. "As is the case in many global industries, this lax approach to environmental standards and human safety promises to provide China with a significant cost advantage over more responsible and highly regulated American firms."

Related topics : Space