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Rocket part crashes near residential area after China-France satellite launch

A section of a Long March 2-C rocket carrying a satellite, launched in a joint mission by China and France, fell back to Earth near a residential area, causing an explosion shortly after liftoff, on June 22.

The satellite, named Space Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM), was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre at 3:00 am local time on June 22. Just after the launch, a part of the rocket, identified as a booster, descended to Earth.

Footage shared on social media shows the rocket segment crashing into a populated area, triggering panic as residents sought shelter. The Long March 2-C rocket employs a hypergolic fuel mixture of nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH), which are hazardous to human health. Many online users voiced concerns about the potential inhalation of these toxic substances.

Developed by engineers from both countries, the Space Variable Objects Monitor (SVOM) is carrying four instruments — two French, two Chinese — that will seek out gamma-ray bursts, the light from which has travelled billions of light years to reach Earth.

The 930-kilogram (2,050-pound) satellite “successfully” took off around 3:00 pm (0700 GMT) aboard a Chinese Long March 2-C rocket from a space base in Xichang, in southwestern Sichuan province, China’s National Space Administration said.

Despite the incident, Chinese authorities announced the mission’s success, confirming that the SVOM satellite, designed to observe the most distant stellar explosions, had successfully reached orbit.

According to the China National Space Administration, the satellite’s mission is to study celestial events, including gamma-ray bursts. This satellite is expected to significantly contribute to astronomical research, as reported by Reuters.

This mission marks the first astronomy satellite developed jointly by China and France, underscoring China’s expanding capabilities in space exploration and its collaboration with European and Asian partners.

Earlier this month, China revealed that its Chang’e-6 lunar probe had successfully transferred samples from the moon’s far side to a spacecraft in lunar orbit. The unmanned spacecraft is anticipated to return to Earth around June 25, potentially making China the first nation to retrieve lunar material from the moon’s far side.

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