China Lunar Rocket Launched Successfully, but Rained Debris on Villages

By Eliza Strickland | October 4, 2010 5:33 pm

Chang'e-2China successfully launched its second lunar probe on Friday, taking another step towards its goal of becoming a full-fledged space power. The probe, named Chang’e-2, made several maneuvers over the weekend to correct its trajectory, and is expected to reach the moon’s orbit this week.

The first Chang’e probe (they’re named after a Chinese moon goddess) orbited the moon for 16 months before self-destructing in a controlled impact with the lunar surface. This second craft is expected to return better data, because it will orbit closer to the surface than its predecessor and carries a higher resolution camera.

Chang’e-2 will orbit 100 kilometers above the moon’s surface and drop down to 15 kilometers on a mission to take detailed pictures of a candidate landing area for a follow-on craft, Chang’e-3, that is expected to be launched toward the end of 2014 or early 2015. [Science Insider]

The area of interest is known as the Bay of Rainbows, and the head of China’s lunar exploration program, Wu Weiren, says it’s the top choice for a landing spot.

The geological structure in this area is diverse, so a probe there would have greater scientific value,” he said. “Other places on the moon have already been landed on, so we want to choose one that has not been explored before,” he said. “Previously, most lunar programs landed around the equator of the moon, an area easier for monitoring and control maneuvers, but Chang’e-3 will take on greater challenges.” [Xinhua]

chang'e-2-debrisWhile Chang’e-2 seems to be coasting serenely towards the moon, things have been a little more chaotic on the ground back in China. Last night, residents of two villages in Jiangxi, China heard rocket debris crashing back to Earth.

Villagers in the area awoke last night to quite a ruckus, thinking that an earthquake was underway. Upon exploration, they instead found what appears to be a sizeable chunk of the rocket used to launch Chang’e II toward the moon in a launch on Friday. Fortunately, the debris fell harmlessly onto rural land, injuring no one and causing no property damage. Had the space junk rained down on one of China’s many densely packed population centers who knows what might have happened? [Popular Science]

Related Content:
80beats: Close Encounters of the Worrisome Kind? Chinese Satellites Meet in Space
80beats: China’s “Heavenly Palace” Space Station Module Due to Launch in 2011
80beats: A Smashing Finale: China’s Lunar Probe Crashes Into the Moon
80beats: After a Successful Spacewalk, Chinese Astronauts Return Home

Images: Xinhua, News163

  • Rhacodactylus

    You have to love a government that can get to the moon, but doesn’t see the issues with dropping a huge sheet of metal in a populated area, just the balance of advancement and recklessness we need.


  • damian

    Traditionally, rockets are launched east from an eastern coast to prevent just this sort of trouble. Not sure why the Chinese located their launch complex inland when they have so much east-coast to work with…

    On additional review, I see that in 1996 a rocket launched from the same place–Xichang Satellite Launch Center–went off course and hit a village, killing 6 and injuring dozens. That would be almost impossible from Kennedy Space Center. NASA clears most boat traffic that space vehicles will fly over, and there are no land masses at risk.

  • Eliza Strickland

    Ah, interesting. Thanks for the context, Damian. I wonder if China put its launch site there to keep its space program–and any accidents–quiet?

    — Eliza

  • Brian

    The difference between NASA and China is that NASA actually cares about not injuring/killing innocent bystanders with their launches. China probably just views villagers as “expendable”

  • Dante The Canadian


    I disagree. China’s motives for keeping their space launch area inland has nothing to do with whether or not they value the lives of their people as expendible or not. They are a socialist regime, Maoist communist to be more precise. With such a socio-political system there comes a certain amount of mistrust of other nations and so they place their ultra secret projects away from prying eyes. It’s not different than the Soviet Union having their launch site and testing facilities in Siberia.

    Your portrayal of the Chinese as a people and China as a nation is arrogant and ignorant in just one statement.

  • TofuGirl

    As a Chinese person, I agree with Brian. Beijing has had a pretty well documented history of not giving a flying rat about poor villagers, from the Imperial era, through Mao and the Gang of Four, and into the present day.

  • Eric

    The Chinese government claims the 1996 crash killed 6 people, outside estimates range from 200 to 2000. You can find the video on Youtube.

  • Sean

    The Chinese space program is military run. The launch site also test the ballistic missile and anti-satellite missile. So to keep it away from US and Soviet bombers, it was build away from the coast and from the Soviet Border in the 1980’s. And debris fallen from Rockets are kinda common in the area. The flight path of the rockets fly over mostly country side, and people are evacuated along the path.

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  • Magda G.

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  • Phil

    Other countries besides China actively launching from inland sites include Russia, Kazakhstan (owned by Russia), Iran and Pakistan. Most seem to be deserts or sparsely populated areas

    I might have missed one, but every other active orbital launch site I can find is on a coast with launches only over water. That includes the US, ESA (Europe), Japan, India, Brazil, South Korea and Israel. The US maintains a second site in California at Vandenberg AFB specifically to reach polar orbits that would require flying over land if they were launched from Cape Canaveral. Smaller sites are at Wallops Island, VA and in the Kwajalein Islands. The North Koreans have sites on both coasts; whether that’s to avoid launching over land I don’t know. Israel performs highly energy-inefficient retrograde (westward) launches over the Mediterranean.

    The European site is in Kourou, French Guiana. If not for its remoteness, this would be the most ideal launch site in the world. It can reach both polar and equatorial orbits, and being close to the equator makes it easier to reach geostationary orbit.


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