A Chinese Long March 3B carrying an Indonesian communications satellite has failed with the rocket’s upper stage and payload falling back to Earth. The failure is China’s second of 2020 after suffering the failure of a Long March 7 last month.
The Long March 3B launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 11:46 UTC on April 9. The rocket was carrying the Palapa-N1 communications satellite, a joint venture between Indosat Ooredoo and Pasifik Satelit Nusantara.
Initially, the launch appeared to go smoothly with the three-stage rocket disappearing into the night’s sky. However, as the expected notification of success following the launch remained unannounced, many began to assume the worst.
Shortly after the rocket’s upper stage was expected to have entered into orbit around Earth, footage of what appeared to be the rocket’s upper stage and payload breaking up over Guam surfaced.
Approximately two hours after the mission was launched, Chinese state news outlets confirmed the failure. The confirmations indicated that the rocket’s first and second stage performed normally and identified the rocket’s upper stage as the culprit. This revelation may have a significant impact on China’s launch schedule for 2020.
Many of the Long March rockets use similar components. The Long March 3B upper stage is powered by two YF-75 liquid cryogenic rocket engines. This is notable as it is the same engine utilized by the third stage of the Long March 7, a rocket that has also suffered an upper stage failure in 2020.
Identifying the YF-75 engine as the culprit for both failures is, however, merely speculation. If it is to blame, it will likely require a redesign benching the Long March 7 and Long March 3, both of which were expected to be featured in several missions in 2020.