Chinese private rocket company apologizes for test failure causing trouble, vows to compensate affected residents
Published: Jul 02, 2024 10:00 PM
Rockets and rocket engines on display in Wuhan on Wednesday Photo: Deng Xiaoci/GT

Rockets and rocket engines on display in Wuhan on Wednesday Photo: Deng Xiaoci/GT

Chinese private rocket company Space Pioneer, also known as Beijing Tianbing Technology Co, apologized on Tuesday afternoon for the failure of its reusable rocket model’s static fire test that caused trouble and inconvenience to the affected residents near the launch site. The company has vowed to compensate their economic losses. 

On Sunday, the first stage of the company’s domestically designed and manufactured large liquid-propellent reusable rocket model Tianlong-3, also known as the Chinese “Falcon 9 equivalent,” accidentally detached from its launch pad during its static fire test due to structural failure, resulting in an unintended launch and landed in a hilly area of Gongyi city, Central China’s Henan Province, and caused fire. 

The company extended its sincerest apologies to the public who have been supporting and following the company, expressing its regret for failing to meet their expectations. 

According to the company, the launch site for this captive-fired testing was far from the urban area of Gongyi. Before the test, the company had cooperated with the local government to implement safety measures and organize the evacuation of nearby personnel in advance. 

The rocket debris fell within a securely controlled area deep in the mountains. Although there were no casualties, it still led to unnecessary disruption and left negative impact on the nearby residents’ life, the company said in the apology letter. 

“We feel immensely regretful and extend our sincere apology to the people of Gongyi,” the company said. 

After the incident, the company’s initial statement released on Sunday stirred an online uproar for the company’s attitudes toward the accident. Many netizens criticized the poor management of the company which could have led to mass casualties, questioned why the company did not make an official apology for the accident but just excused themselves with no casualties caused without mentioning the impact on the company’s on-site employees, and boasted its rocket’s advancement in the technology.

According to the statement released by the company on Sunday, the test of the rocket with nine-engine parallel configuration is the most powerful propulsion system of China’s current carrier rocket, two times the previous maximum thrust test in China’s aerospace. 
During the test, the first stage of the rocket ignited normally and the nine Tianhuo-12 variable thrust engines forming the rocket’s first stage reached a most powerful propulsion of 820 tons, it said. 

According to an industry insider, surnamed Liu, such a failure might be a low-level error resulted from insufficient experience. When testing a rocket engine, the thrust it generates and the restraining force of the test apparatus on the rocket need to be calculated in advance. The occurrence of such an error may be due to inadequate preliminary calculations or the on-site staff’s lack of experience, Red Star News reported on Tuesday. 

Other netizens hoped for a thorough investigation and rectification of this incident no matter from the technical or from the managerial perspective, which is not just for the sake of the company but for the interest of the entire Chinese private commercial aerospace sector, which is faced with fierce international competitions.

Other netizens also gave proposals on the selection of locations of future self-constructed launch sites by domestic private rocket companies. They suggested launch sites should be constructed in the desert. 

After the incident, some observers have also called on the society to continue supporting China’s commercial aerospace industry and not let this incident cast doubt on existing policies and the achievements that have been made in domestic reusable rocket researches. 

In the apology letter, the company said that itis working with the local government to investigate, assess and compensate for the damaged houses in the surrounding area. The company promised to ensure that every resident who suffered from property losses due to the test failure receives timely, efficient and fair compensation. 

The company also stressed its persistent endeavor in making innovations and breakthroughs. “We fully understand that every challenge to reach new heights comes with great risks and uncertainties. We will learn from this setback and implement ‘safety first’ in all future production work, prioritizing the safety of people’s lives and property, comprehensively strengthening all aspects of safety management to ensure that subsequent tests are conducted safely and meticulously, leaving no room for error,” the company wrote. 

The company also welcomed the public’s supervision and suggestions, noting that the setback it encountered this time will provide valuable experience for the steady progress of China’s commercial aerospace industry, and called for the industry peers to unite and work together, contributing to the advancement of China’s commercial aerospace endeavors.

Global Times