One of the most incredible rocket screwups in history.

Not So Static

During what was supposed to be a static test launch, a private Chinese aerospace company accidentally launched one of its rockets, which crashed spectacularly into a nearby mountain.

As The Guardian reports, the Beijing Tianbing company, also known as Space Pioneer, admitted on its WeChat channel to the explosive error that occurred during a test of its Tianlong-3 rocket in the southwestern city of Gongyi.

In a translation of that social media statement, Space Pioneer said that the first stage of the Tianlong-3 test run had been going "normally" when the body of the reusable craft separated unexpectedly due to "structural failure."

"After liftoff, the onboard computer automatically shut down, and the rocket fell into a deep mountain 1.5 kilometers [0.93 miles] southwest of the test bench," the statement reads. "The rocket body disintegrated after falling into the mountain."

As video from Chinese news outlets and social media shows, the rocket landed in a wooded area of the hills surrounding Gongyi. Both the company and local authorities confirmed that nobody was hurt in the incident, though the rocket crash did, per the Gongyi emergency management service, cause a forest fire that has since been extinguished.

Hot Rivalry

As Business Insider and other outlets note, the two-stage structure of the Tianlong-3 rocket is considered something of a rival to SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. Both are, for instance, designed to be reusable and both can theoretically take off with a mass of roughly 600 tons — though unlike the Falcon 9, the Tianlong series hasn't been test-launched hundreds of times to make sure things like this don't happen during a legit launch.

While SpaceX keeps its test launches to less-inhabited areas of the United States, Space Pioneer chooses, as The Guardian points out, to do its testing in a city populated by 800,000 people in the middle of China.

That fact, and the entire debacle, makes it pretty lucky that the Tianlong-3 accident didn't cause more damage than a quickly-extinguished forest fire.

More on rockets: Huge Chinese Rocket Parts Fall on Village, Spewing Toxic Chemicals

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