Rocket's nose cone bangs down in Jiangxi farmers' back yards

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 October, 2010, 12:00am

Farmers in two Jiangxi villages had an unexpected first-hand experience of the country's space programme on Friday night - when parts of the lunar rocket landed in their back yards.

The two halves of the rocket's nose cone - which had fallen from the outer atmosphere - landed near hamlets several kilometres outside Tanghu village in the southwest of the province, mainland media reported.

Witnesses said they heard two loud bangs and felt the ground shudder when the parts crashed into the fields, ploughing furrows up to 1.5 metres deep.

The cone had been discarded from the Long March 3C rocket when aerodynamic shielding was no longer needed around the Chang'e II lunar probe, which was launched at 7pm on Friday.

Pictures published by mainland media showed the sections of the rocket had been partially scorched and pockmarked, apparently from re-entry to the earth's atmosphere.

The Chang'e II probe is China's second lunar probe, and is a precursor to a planned moon landing. It is due to reach orbit around the moon on Wednesday, when it will begin taking high-resolution images of the moon's surface to survey possible sites for the mainland's lunar base.

The nose cone was released about 10 minutes into the flight, after the spacecraft had already discarded its booster rockets and two initial fuel stages. It is unclear where the other sections fell, but there were no reports of injuries.

Falling rocket debris has been a perennial problem for the Chinese space programme, mainly due to the fact the main launch site is based in Xichang , Sichuan province, over a thousand kilometres from the sea.

The rocket carrying Chang'e II followed a roughly easterly trajectory that took it over five other provinces - Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi and Fujian - before it passed over northern Taiwan.

A new launch site is under construction on Hainan Island .

Lucky miss

Witnesses said they felt the ground shudder when the parts hit

The depth of the furrows ploughed by the rocket debris was: 1.5m