A spent Chinese Long March 4 rocket stage narrowly missed a populated area as it plummeted back down to Earth following the launch of the Geoten-11 20 satellite.
The Long March 4B was launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at 05:57 UTC on September 7 carrying the Geofen-11 02 Earth observation satellite. Following the launch, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation confirmed that the satellite had been successfully deployed into orbit.
Although this appeared to be the conclusion of the mission, footage soon began to emerge on social media of a spent Long March 4B booster falling back to Earth. The video cuts and returns with clouds of toxic nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) filling the air within reach of a populated area.
Some impressive footage from today's Long March 4B first stage return.
— LaunchStuff (@LaunchStuff) September 7, 2020
According to the original source of the video, the booster narrowly missed a school in a small town in the Luonan county in the east of the Shaanxi province.
Despite the proximity, there appears to be no direct casualties as a result of the near-miss. However, the clouds of N2O4 may pose a greater threat to those exposed to it. Potential symptoms of N2O4 exposure include everything from irritation of the eyes and nose to pulmonary edema and even death.
This morning’s near-miss is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Launches from Taiyuan and other inland launch facilities in China frequently threaten populated areas downrange.