Skip to main content

Disastrous ‘static-fire’ rocket test sees vehicle lift off and then crash

When it comes to rockets, a “static-fire engine test,” by definition, means that the rocket should remain on the ground and not move. But during such a test in China on Sunday, that clearly didn’t happen.

Chinese commercial company Space Pioneer fired up the engines of its Tianlong-3 rocket for a static-fire test only to see the vehicle lift off.

The clamps designed to hold the rocket in place during the engine test had catastrophically failed, causing the rocket’s powerful thrust to send the vehicle skyward.

And the situation only got worse.

After climbing a short distance into the sky, the rocket appeared to lose power, causing it to plummet back to the ground and explode in a massive fireball. A video shows the failed test, which lasted about 50 seconds from ignition to explosion.

The only positive outcome is that no one is believed to have been hurt in the incident.

In a statement seen by Space News, Space Pioneer confirmed that there had been a structural failure at the point where the rocket body was connected to the test bench. The rocket’s onboard computer automatically shut down the engines, but not quickly enough to stop it racing away from the launchpad.

Static-fire testing is a routine part of surfacing anomalies with a rocket engine, but this one exposed an anomaly with the static-fire system itself.

The blunder seems likely to delay the first official launch of the rocket, which is supposed to take place at China’s new commercial launch facilities near Wenchang spaceport on Hainan island about 1,500 miles southwest of Beijing.

In a more successful endeavor, Space Pioneer last year became the first Chinese commercial launch firm to succeed in reaching orbit with its Tianlong-2 rocket.

China has actually been enjoying a fair bit of success with its space-based efforts lately, so this latest incident will come as a surprise to many. In June, for example, the nation made history by becoming the first to bring to Earth rock samples from the far side of the moon.

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Japan’s space agency destroys own rocket just after launch
Japan's H3 rocket at the start of a failed mission in March 2023.

Proving that rocket launches aren’t as easy as SpaceX makes them look, Japanese space agency JAXA was forced to destroy one of its own rockets after it developed a fault in the early stages of flight on Tuesday, March 7.

Mission personnel had no choice but to send a self-destruct command to the new H3 rocket after the second-stage engine malfunctioned just minutes after launch.

Read more
SpaceX stacks mighty Super Heavy rocket as it eyes February test launch
SpaceX's Starship spacecraft being placed atop the Super Heavy rocket.

SpaceX has shared a video showing its next-generation spaceflight vehicle being stacked on the launchpad ahead of its first test flight.

The footage (below) shows the Starship spacecraft being placed atop the mighty Super Heavy booster at SpaceX’s Starbase launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

Read more
Watch this incredible video of a SpaceX rocket test
SpaceX testing an engine on its Starship spacecraft.

Rocket builders need to conduct multiple static fire tests of their boosters before they can send them into space for the first time.

That means securing the vehicle to the ground before firing up one or more of its engines for anywhere between seconds and several minutes.

Read more