Test Gone Wrong—China’s Accidental Rocket Launch

Disaster struck on June 30th, 2024 for Space Pioneer’s Tianlong-3 rocket during what was supposed to be a typical static fire test. The rocket was attached to the test stand when engineers ignited the 1st stage engines as a crucial and standard test. What engineers didn’t know is that there would be a structural failure between the rocket and test stand, allowing the rocket to unintentionally soar into the air for 50 seconds. The onboard computer shut down automatically resulting in the rocket crashing and exploding into an evacuated hilly area near Gongyi, China. The company, Space Pioneer, was China’s first private launch to reach orbit last year and had high expectations for the new Tianlong-3. It has a similar design to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and was intended on being partially reusable. The orbital launch for this rocket was supposed to be in a couple of months but will now be delayed.

Although this event was not triggered by a cybersecurity attack, adversaries could have targeted this launch as a means of showing power. China is just coming off a high with the return of Chang’e-6 and the first ever lunar far side samples to return to Earth. With all eyes on China and with national pride so strong, an adversary could target this event to try and ruin a country’s reputation and show that they are not worth the hype. Also, although Space Pioneer is a private company, a lot of its funding has come from central, provincial, and city governments. Therefore, any failures to the company could also reflect badly on its donors and sponsors. In addition, delaying Tianlong-3 would directly affect China’s access to space and launch capability while delaying China’s plans for a mega constellation. Another thing to consider is that since Tianlong-3 is aimed to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and America, it has a big target on them to ensure that they don’t prosper. All of these reasons are why this event would have been a good target for a cybersecurity attack and why companies need to make sure that their assets with good cybersecurity practices. 

Reference: https://spacenews.com/chinese-rocket-static-fire-test-results-in-unintended-launch-and-huge-explosion/