On Friday morning in China, a rocket blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province with a pair of navigation satellites bound for orbit around Earth. As the rocket climbed higher and higher, the four strap-on boosters that launched with it began to fall away. This is supposed to happen; the boosters provide extra lift in the minutes after launch, and when they burn through their fuel, they separate and fall back down to Earth.
The satellites made it safely into orbit. But back on the ground, there were flames.
One of those four discarded boosters had landed near a town in the Guangxi region and exploded. Video captured by onlookers and shared on social media shows the booster falling from the sky and striking the ground behind buildings. Screams are heard as flames erupt when it makes contact. Other footage shows bystanders approaching the flaming wreckage in a grassy area. Flames billow out from one end of the booster, and the ground is littered with chunks of debris.
The incident, which was first reported by Andrew Jones at GB Times, is actually not uncommon in China. Three of the country’s four launch facilities—Xichang in the Sichuan province, Jiuquan in the Gobi desert in Mongolia, and Taiyuan in the Shanxi province—are located deep inland, hundreds of miles from open water. For China to send satellites and other payloads into space from these spots, rockets must fly over land. The setup contrasts that of the U.S. and other nations that host rocket launches, where facilities are located near the coastline and rockets travel over oceans as they ascend.